Tuesday 30 November 2021

Young Composers and Emerging Musicians

The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) has announced details of the 2022 Young Composers Award, for composers aged 25 and under. The Liverpool Philharmonic has launched of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Emerging Musicians Fellowship to provide four musicians at the beginning of their orchestral careers with an immersive experience in the world of the orchestra.

The NCEM Young Composers Award 2022 is presented in association with BBC Radio 3. The 2022 edition of the award asks young composers to write a work for string quartet (lasting three to four minutes), working alongside the Consone Quartet, an historically informed group playing on gut strings.

Shortlisted composers will be invited to the Award Day at the National Centre for Early Music in York when the shortlisted compositions will be presented by the Consone Quartet in a workshop led by composer Professor Christopher Fox.  In the evening, the Consone Quartet will perform each of the pieces for a panel of judges.

The two winning pieces, one from each age category (18 years and under; 19 to 25 years), will be premiered by the Consone Quartet at Stour Music festival on 26 June 2022. The performance will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show, and the quartet will be performing the compositions at the Stour Music Festival.

Full details from the award website, and you have until 18 February 2022 to register.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Emerging Musicians Fellowship will run annually starting with the 2022-23 season, and will provide four musicians at the beginning of their orchestral careers with an immersive experience in the world of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, both on and off the stage through four residencies during four weeks spread over the course of a year. Notably, the Fellowship is the first paid opportunity of its kind in the North of England.

Fellows will rehearse and perform with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the regular season programme, receiving bespoke training and will be mentored by an orchestral musician. Fellows will rehearse and perform within chamber ensembles, with the year culminating in a public chamber performance. They will access the Orchestra’s pioneering Musicians Performance and Wellbeing programme, and participate in Learning programmes such as In Harmony Liverpool.

Further details from the orchestra's website.

Herr Arnes penningar: Göteborg Opera revives rarely performed opera by 20th century Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem

Gösta Nystroem's opera Herr Arnes penningar at Göteborg Opera

Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966) studied composition in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Paris, and in Paris his teachers included Vincent D'Indy and Leonid Sabanayev. Nystroem is not a well-known name today, though in the 1930s his music was regarded as modernist in Sweden.

In 1959 his opera Herr Arnes penningar (Mr Arne's Money) was created as a radio play and first staged in 1961 in Gothenberg, where Nystroem lived for most of his life after his return from Paris. In 2017, Göteborg Opera gave a concert performance of the opera which received critical acclaim and now the company is planning to stage it in 2022 as part of the city's 400th anniversary celebrations.

Herr Arnes penningar is based on Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf's novel of the same name, dating from 1904. Lagerlöf was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the novel tells a somewhat macabre story, a riveting tale of murder, stolen treasure and ill-fated love set in the bleak and supernatural wintery landscape of the medieval Gothenburg region.

Nystroem's output includes six symphonies, concertos, chamber music and songs, but Herr Arnes penningar seems to be his only opera.

The production will be directed by Mattias Ermedahl and conducted by Patrik Ringborg with a cast including Julia Sporsen, and it debuts on 19 February 2022. Full details from the Göteborg Opera website.

A Night at the Opera

Ulster Touring Opera logo
Ulster Touring Opera is an ambitious new cross-border company based in Belfast. Under artistic director Dafydd Hall Williams the company has announced its debut season, a concert series A Night at the Opera which is touring during February 2022 to seven venues, three in the Republic and four in Northern Ireland (Newtownabbey, Enniskillen, Omagh, Monaghan, Armagh, Letterkenny, Cavan). 

Four Irish singers, Carolyn Dobbin, Gavan Ring, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Malachy Frame will be joined by pianist Ruth McGinley and BBC Radio Ulster presenter Marie-Louise Muir for a programme of duets and ensembles by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini.

There will also be a chance for audiences to try out the company’s ground-breaking Augmented Reality opera projects in the foyer of the theatres.

Full details from the Ulster Touring Opera website.

A snapshot of London musical life in 17th and 18th centuries from Ensemble Hesperi at Temple Church

John Playford (engraving by David Loggan)
John Playford (engraving by David Loggan)

Handel, Purcell, Blow, Playford, Oswald; Ensemble Hesperi; Temple Music at Temple Church

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The period instrument ensemble exploring music by the web of musicians who lived or worked near Temple during the late 17th and early 18th centuries

During the late 17th and 18th centuries, the area around the Temple was home to quite a number of musicians. During the 1640s, John Playford opened a music shop by Temple Church and his business would remain in the area, whilst John Walsh would open his music shop in the nearby Strand in the 1690s. Other musicians lived in the area also, and it was this web of connections that Ensemble Hesperi explored in their concert in Temple Church on Monday 29 November 2021 for Temple Music. The ensemble, Mary-Jannet Leith (recorders), Magdalena Loth-Hill (baroque violin), Florence Petit (baroque cello), Thomas Allery (harpsichord), has become known for its exploration of Scottish 17th and 18th century music, and their Temple Church programme included some of James Oswald's music from their recent disc Full of the Highland Humours [see my review] alongside music by Purcell, Handel, Farinel, Pepusch, Finger, Blow and Matteis plus tunes from Playford's A Collection of Original Scotch Tunes and the English Dancing Master.

Thomas Playford's shop was the first music shop as we know it, and it was home to his music business. Samuel Pepys would queue up at the shop to buy the latest music by Henry Purcell, and Playford's son Henry would collaborate with Purcell's widow in printing more of the composer's music. Henry Playford also conducted auctions of music libraries (generally after someone had died), and when the composer Gottfried Finger failed to win the competition to write an opera based on John Eccles' libretto, The Judgement of Paris, the composer left London for good and Walsh auctioned his library. As Playford's business declined, John Walsh developed his, notable for his publishing of Handel's music (at first pirating it and then in collaboration with the composer).

Monday 29 November 2021

Anthony Bolton's The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Anthony Bolton's The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko at Grange Park Opera

Anthony Bolton's The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko debuted at Grange Park Opera in July 2021. Delayed by a year, thanks to the pandemic, the new piece is an operatic treatment of the real-life story of the killing of the Russian exile living in London. With a libretto by Kit Hesketh Harvey, the opera is a musical treatment of a highly dramatic re-life episode, and a welcome mark of confidence from Grange Park Opera in the idea of new, large-scale opera.

The production, directed by Stephen Medcalf and conducted by Stephen Barlow, featured Adrian Dwyer, Rebecca Bottone, Stephan Loges, and James Laing.

For those that missed the live performances, a film of the production is now available on the Grange Park Opera website.

Live from London - Christmas 2021: Voces8's online series returns with youth choirs featured alongside professional ensembles

Live from London - Christmas 2021
Voces8 launches its LIVE from London - Christmas 2021 season this week; 13 online concerts featuring a wide range of performers in events across Advent and the Octave of the Nativity. The concerts are all filmed with live audiences at churches across London (with two American guest groups thrown in). But in addition to the professional musicians, there is also a chance for youth groups to shine as well as each concert will feature a guest spot from youth groups.

So, in the run up to Christmas we will be hearing from Voces8, The Kings Singers, Apollo5, Stile Antico and I Fagiolini, with American guests The Crossing and St Olaf College, including a performance of Handel's Messiah from Voces8. Then for the Christmas period itself, the Gabrieli Consort and Players are performing five concerts featuring the music of Bach and Praetorius.

Alongside these there will be guest spots from youth choirs including Barnsley Youth Choir, Hartt Voices, National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain, London Youth Choir, iSing Silicon Valley, Voces8 US Scholars, Daubeney Primary School and Gabrieli Roar.

Full details from the Voces8 website.

The journey begins: Richard Jones and Martyn Brabbins launch a new Ring Cycle at ENO, dramatically anti-heroic yet with strong musical values and some intriguing ideas

Wagner: The Valkyrie - Rachel Nicholls - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Wagner: The Valkyrie - Rachel Nicholls - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Wagner The Valkyrie; Rachell Nicholls, Emma Bell, Nicky Spence, Matthew Rose/Tomasz Konieczny, Brindley Sherratt, Susan Bickley, dir: Richard Jones, cond: Martyn Brabbins; English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Strong musical values, a largely home-grown cast and some intriguing dramatic ideas make for an interesting start to ENO's new Wagnerian journey

The Bayreuth Festival apart, few opera companies reveal a new Ring Cycle in one fell swoop, instead the cycle tends to be developed over a number of years so that the whole production beds in. This means that the first production in a cycle has to be thought of as not so much a finished product as the beginning of a journey, designer, director and conductor laying out the ground rules.

English National Opera has not had much luck with Ring Cycles in the last few decades. The iconic Ring Cycle of the 1970s, conducted by Reginald Goodall, was ground-breaking but perhaps had a sense of 'follow that!' to it. Not until the 1990s did they plan a new one directed by David Pountney. But this cycle never got beyond a production of The Valkyrie bedevilled by an overly complex set and an ailing Brünnhilde
. Phyllida Lloyd then directed a Ring Cycle in which each of the individual operas were staged, in 2004 and 2005, but the complete cycle never appeared. And so, we are now returning to the Ring again at the London Coliseum, perhaps more in hope than expectation.

We caught Richard Jones' new production of Wagner's The Valkyrie for English National Opera at the London Coliseum on Sunday 28 November 2021. Conducted by Martyn Brabbins, the production featured Rachel Nicholls as Brünnhilde, Emma Bell as Sieglinde, Nicky Spence as Siegmund, Brindley Sherratt as Hunding, and Susan Bickley as Fricka. Matthew Rose was ill and unable to sing Wotan and unfortunately his cover was unavailable as well. Luckily the company had managed to fly Tomasz Konieczny in, so Rose acted the role and Konieczny sang in German from the side of the stage. [Konieczny was Telramund in the Bayreuth Festival's new production of Lohengrin in 2018 and 2019, see Tony's review]

The new Ring Cycle is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, yet Richard Jones' approach seems to deliberately avoid both the technological sophistication and the naturalism for which the previous two Met Rings were notable. In fact, given the sheer sparseness of Stuart Laing's designs, you wonder how the production will sit on the vast open spaces of the Met's stage.

Wagner: The Valkyrie - Nicky Spence, Brindley Sherratt, Emma Bell - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Wagner: The Valkyrie - Nicky Spence, Brindley Sherratt, Emma Bell - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Jones and Laing take very spare, stylised approach to the opera and any sense of an heroic, mythic past is generally avoided. There are no moments of great theatrical magic, everything is plain and direct. But the mythical past is not entirely absent, the cast wield spears and swords; there is a sword in the tree in Act One, and in Act Two, Susan Bickley's Fricka points to places on Wotan's spear when elucidating the various contracts that bind him. There is sufficient material here for one to be intrigued as to how Jones will develop it. His previous Ring Cycle, at Covent Garden, was notable both for the fidelity to the score and for the quirky way that Jones implement this fidelity.

Sunday 28 November 2021

'A Dangerous Obsession: The Relationship of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud' at the London Song Festival

Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud
Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud

A Dangerous Obsession: The Relationship of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud
; Ben Vonberg-Clark, Julien Van Mellaerts, Nigel Foster, David Mildon; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 November 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
The relationship of Verlaine and Rimbaud in their own words, explored in an enthralling programme of settings of their poetry

The relationship between the poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud remains one that continues to fascinate and puzzle in its sheer intensity and violence. As poets, both would have an enormous impact on French poetry and both would inspire generations of composers. For the latest concert in pianist Nigel Foster's London Song Festival season at Hinde Street Methodist Church (26 November 2021), A Dangerous Obsession saw tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark, baritone Julien Van Mellaerts, actor David Mildon and Foster exploring Verlaine and Rimbaud's relationship through songs to their poems, with music by Faure, Charpentier, Debussy, Varese, Vierne, Hahn, Hahn, John Alden Carpenter, Poldowski, , Daniel Ruyneman, Hindemith, Jean Rivier, Eisler, Leon Orthel, Maxime Jacob, Britten, and Pascal Zavaro.

The evening was arranged as a narrative, with Ben Vonberg-Clark (who stepped in at the very last possible minute) singing settings of Rimbaud's poetry and Julien Van Mellaerts singing settings of  Verlaine's poetry, plus David Mildon providing linking narrative, the whole having being devised by Nigel Foster. The fascinating thing was that, unlike many similar such programmes, here the songs became part of the narrative as many of the poems were written at the time of the events being narrated or were about the situations being talked about. The result was absorbing and imaginative, almost Verlaine and Rimbaud in their own words. Add to this Foster's imaginative selection of songs and you had an engrossing evening.

The narrative took us from their very first meeting (after the teenage Rimbaud had written to Verlaine) right through to their final, short meeting after Verlaine's release from prison, following which the one would write no more poetry, go travelling and have an important role to play in the colonial exploration of East Africa, whilst the other would discover religion and lose it again, struggle with his sexual nature and decline into alcoholism, but write a remarkable oeuvre of poetry. In between was a remarkable tale of obsession, violence, intensity, struggle, parting, reconciliation and more violence. You felt sorry both for Rimbaud's mother and for Verlaine's wife, both of whom were significantly involved and neither of whom seemed to be able to keep the pair away from each other for long. The violence that characterised the pair's relationship, however, was truly staggering.

Saturday 27 November 2021

Following her passion: for Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir writing music as a calling

Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Photo Saga Sigurdardottir)
Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Photo Saga Sigurdardottir)

For the third of my interviews with composers nominated for the 2021 Ivors Composer Awards, I chatted to Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Þorvaldsdóttir) who is a first time nominee. Anna is nominated in the large scale composition category for her orchestral piece Catamorphosis. The work was a co-commission from the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic, conductor Kirill Petrenko, on 29 January 2021 [the concert is available from the orchestra's Digital Concert Hall]. Catamorphosis takes as its starting point the fragile relationship between humankind and the planet, and can be taken as a purely musical work, overflowing with drama and unexpected turns, or as a metaphor for the climate emergency.

I was intrigued as to the origins of the title, and Anna explained that it is a combination of two different words 'Catastrophe' and 'Metamorphosis' which goes back to her initial inspirations for the work. Whilst she does not always find it necessary to have the inspirations indicated in the title of the work, this time she felt that it was. The work started as a completely open commission as to length and subject matter. She enjoys working with a large-scale format as this gives her ideas space, and for this work she needed the full 20 minutes. The ideas and the work came naturally. It wasn't a case of pinning an idea or a concept on a piece; the inspiration came intuitively, and the subject matter, relating to humans, the planet and climate change, was a large part of the creation of the work.

If you read about Anna's music, her inspiration from landscape and nature is often mentioned. But she does not try to describe particular landscapes, she takes inspiration from nature for the structure and flow of the construction of her work. Nature is complex and complicated, and she is able to reflect this in the music with every type of emotion. She does not find sounds in nature, but uses it as the inspiration for her construction material, finding shapes. She sees her music as being about the state of being. 

Friday 26 November 2021

A tremendous achievement: premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's 'Scenes from the Wild' as part of City of London Sinfonia's 50th birthday celebrations

Frances-Hoad: Scenes from the Wild - William Morgan, City of London Sinfonia, Geoffrey Paterson at Southwark Cathedral (Photo Nick Rutter for Apple and Biscuit Recordings)
Frances-Hoad: Scenes from the Wild - William Morgan, City of London Sinfonia, Geoffrey Paterson at Southwark Cathedral (Photo Nick Rutter for Apple and Biscuit Recordings)

Frances-Hoad Scenes from the Wild; William Morgan, City of London Sinfonia, Geoffrey Paterson; Southwark Cathedral

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A humungous achievement for all concerned; Frances-Hoad's remarkable 80-minute song cycle celebrating the orchestra's birthday, the natural world and the thoughts of a remarkable young man

City of London Sinfonia is celebrating its 50th birthday with a season of concerts, Origin, at Southwark Cathedral. For the third concert in the series on Thursday 25 November 2021, Geoffrey Paterson conducted City of London Sinfonia and tenor William Morgan in the premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Scenes from the Wild with a libretto by Amanda Holden based on Dara McAnulty's book Diary of a Young Naturalist.

A conservationist and an activist, Dara McAnulty's book explores the natural world throughout the seasons, his fascination with flora and fauna being tied up with both his activism and his autism.  Holden's libretto distilled the book down to 26 episodes, spread across the four seasons of a year (2018 to 2019). The result was something of a tour-de-force for both composer and performers, as the song cycle lasted around 80 minutes, as well as a bit of a challenge for listeners.

The choice of the book and the theme of the work was deliberate, so that Scene from the Wild is intended to reflect on the orchestra's extensive participation work in mental health settings, a belief in inclusion and music for all and care for the environment.

McAnulty's writes in poetic prose, and his thoughts on particular aspects of the natural world can develop into poetic meditations, anger about loss of habitat or aspects of living with autism. Frances-Hoad reflected this by giving the music a free-form, rhapsodic nature, with each song/episode often featuring a solo moment for particular instruments from the orchestra. Though writing for quite a small chamber orchestra, 10 strings, single woodwind, two horns, trumpet and percussion, Hoad managed to create a series of atmospheric and imaginative textures, as well as bringing the feel and sound of the natural world into the music without ever feeling cornily descriptive. 

How I wonder what you are: RR Bennett, Hindemith, RVW, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Barber, and Alex Groves at Re-Sung

John Tenniel: the Mad Hatter (from Alice in Wonderland) reciting 'Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat'
John Tenniel: the Mad Hatter (from Alice in Wonderland)
reciting 'Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat'

How I wonder what you are
- RR Bennett, Hindemith, RVW, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Barber, Groves; Ben Vonberg-Clark, Stephen Fort, Edward Picton-Turbervill, Nick Quanrud; Re-Sung at St John the Divine, Kennington

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An engaging and imaginative programme about the wonder of the stars from a group of young artists at this lively concert series in Kennington

Re-Sung is a lively concert series organised by pianist Dylan Perez, and the latest season is presenting concerts at the Church of St John the Divine in Kennington, just up the road from where I live and another lovely example of how concert-life is, slowly, becoming more local.

On Wednesday 24 November 2021, Re-Sung presented a programme entitled How I wonder what you are which was curated by pianist and composer Edward Picton-Turbervill. Exploring our attitudes to the stars and, as Picton-Turberville explained in his introduction, trying to capture something of the wonder that we feel, it was a programme that mixed song and spoken word. Tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark and bass Stephen Fort performed songs by Richard Rodney Bennett, Hindemith, RVW, Schubert, Mussorgsky and Samuel Barber, there was the premiere of a new piece for piano and electronics by Alex Groves, and Nick Quanrud (who is a member of the clergy team at St John the Divine) gave a series of readings.

Share Sound: From a quick-fire germ to something beyond the scope of any project Orchestras Live has ever delivered before

Orchestras Live's Share Sound

Orchestras Live's Share Sound initiative was conceived as an 'of the moment' project, a response to the fact that as a result of the pandemic, young people were no longer going to be able to meet, to perform or create live music together, and that his would affect many of Orchestras Live's music education partners.

So, Share Sound was born, a digital creative project enabling young musicians to explore digital ensemble music making, composing, and performing with professional composers and orchestras. 'Of the moment' it might have been, but experience, connections, knowledge and deeply held beliefs about musical inclusion, drove the project beyond the scope of any project the organisation has ever delivered before.

Share Sound developed into large-scale digital project involving six music education hub partners, three orchestras, six music creators and composers, over 250 young co-creators plus an additional 132 primary school performers, and a professional digital production team, culminating in a live broadcast event watched by approximately 2,000 people.

A lot has been learned from the project, and now a report has been produced enabling others to learn:

  • How an inclusive approach resulted in high-quality musical outcomes
  • How digital delivery methods have enabled partners to enhance their youth music offers
  • The digital production skills needed to produce a project of this scale
  • The challenges of producing the project and lessons learned
The Share Sound report is available from Orchestras Live website.

Thursday 25 November 2021

Venues in Scotland: Edinburgh's first purpose built music venue in 100 years, and a state-of-the-art recording studio in Glasgow

Image of the new Dunard Centre slotted in behind the Dundas Mansion in St Andrew's Square, Edinburg
Image of the new Dunard Centre slotted in behind the Dundas Mansion in St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh

It seems to be all go in Scotland when it comes to developing music venues. Hot on the heels of the decision to turn Edinburgh's old Royal High School into a National Centre for Music [see my article] comes the decision of Edinburgh City Council to approve plans for the Dunard Centre, the city's first purpose-built music and performance venue in over 100 years, which is set to become the new home of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Whilst in Glasgow, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's has launched its new purpose-built state-of-the-art recording facility, Scotland's Studio.

Whilst the planning process for the Dunard Centre has not been uncomplicated, the council's decision looks set to confirm that the new centre, which is to be ingeniously inserted just behind Dundas House off St Andrew Square, will go ahead and create a 1000-seat performance venue on this forgotten site. The flexible setting will be a home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as well as host for other ensembles, choirs, solo musicians and bands. There are also plans for a café and an all-day events schedule intended to reinforce the centre as a cultural hub, with education and community outreach programmes as well.

The centre is being developed by Impact Scotland, designed by David Chipperfield Architects and is supported by Royal Bank of Scotland, and named for the Dunard Fund which is a major funder of the project. The Dunard Fund was set up by American philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor; previously a concert pianist who performed on tour in Edinburgh, Carol Colburn Grigor is married to the Scottish film-maker Murray Grigor. Further information about the project from the Impact Scotland website.

Scotland's Studio is a brand new studio facility which is purpose-built in Glasgow for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO). It builds on existing infrastructures such as the RSNO Centre which opened in 2015, and features not only cutting-edge mixing technology, but the RSNO’s New Auditorium, an acoustically adjustable and flexible space, ideal for the specialised production of recordings for film and television soundtracks as well as hosting educational projects.

The studio is being positioned as a 'one-stop-shop'  able to provide full end-to-end production for industry. Aimed at the film and game industry soundtrack recording outside of London, the RSNO being the only orchestra in the UK with a fully functioning recording facility that can record sound to picture. The studio will also be open to other Scottish based orchestras and musicians, giving them access to not only a world-class recording studio, but also allowing them to advance within the creative industries.

RSNO and Blair Mowat in the new Scotland's Studio
RSNO and Blair Mowat in the new Scotland's Studio

Full information from the dedicated studio website, and for the nerds amongst you, there is a brochure to download [PDF]

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on BBC Radio 3's New Music Show

BBC Radio 3 New Music Show
The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has been running from 18 to 22 November 2021 across venues in Huddersfield. For those that have not managed to get to Huddersfield this year, the festival is continuing its long-standing partnership with BBC Radio 3 and its New Music Show

Radio 3's weekly programme devoted to contemporary and experimental music, New Music Show, recorded nine concerts from the festival and there are two New Music Shows devoted to highlights from the festival, to be broadcast on Saturday, November 27 and Saturday, December 4 at 10pm. These will mix performances with interviews with composers and performers.

These two programmes will feature music by Chaya Czernowin, James Dillon, Jenny Hettne, Tonia Ko, Zubin Kanga, Lisa Illean, and Michael Pelzel, performed by Riot Ensemble, Red Note Ensemble, London Sinfonietta, Arditti Quartet and Ensemble Musikfabrik.

And over the coming months New Music Show will broadcast more from the festival with works by Mauro Lanza, Enno Poppe, Bára Gisladóttir, Aileen Sweeney, Lawrence Osborn and Roberto Gerhard.

See BBC website for details.

In the Garden of Polyphony: Israel Golani performs French Renaissance music for lute and guitar on Solaire Records

In the Garden of Polyphony: French Renaissance Music for Lute & Guitar; Israel Golani; Solaire Records

In the Garden of Polyphony
: French Renaissance Music for Lute & Guitar; Israel Golani; Solaire Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A lovely exploration of the 16th-century French penchant for lute music, notably transcriptions of polyphonic vocal music, by turns dazzling and engaging

Some thirty books of lute music and fourteen books of guitar music were published in France during the 16th century, with more published in the Low Countries. On this disc from Solaire Records, In the Garden of Polyphony, Israel Golani explores this repertoire, performing French Renaissance music for lute and guitar. Golani plays 30 works by around a dozen composers, all secular pieces mixing transcriptions of chansons, fantasias and dances.

It might not seem obvious to us now, but performing transcriptions of polyphony on the lute was big business; last year lutenist Jacob Heringman explored the world of lute transcriptions of Marian motets by Josquin [see my review]. The lute was a common and practical instrument, performing such music on it enabled performers and listeners to get closer to the music. These performances usually took place in intimate surroundings, the idea of a public concert was far away.  Sometimes the resulting piece is quite close to the original enabling us to appreciate the original composer's art, but other transcriptions bring in a world of ornamentation and demonstrate the skill of the lutenist performing it.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

From complex juggling patterns to cartoon sound-tracks to Melville's Moby Dick; the inspirations behind Ryan Latimer's vividly coloured and richly energised music are many and varied

Ryan Latimer Antiarke; RAM Manson Ensemble, BBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Britten Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, Psappha, Loki Ensemble, BBC Symphony Orchestra; NMC Recordings

Ryan Latimer Antiarke; RAM Manson Ensemble, BBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Britten Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, Psappha, Loki Ensemble, BBC Symphony Orchestra; NMC Recordings

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Playful, complex, brightly characterful with a vivid sense of rhythm, this new portrait disc from NMC paints a vibrant picture of Ryan Latimer's music

Antiarke in NMC Recordings' Debut Discs series is a portrait disc of the young British composer Ryan Latimer, featuring seven works performed by Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble and Oliver KnussenBBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus and David TempleBritten SinfoniaLondon Sinfonietta and Garry WalkerPsappha; Loki Ensemble, mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton and Daniele RosinaBBC Symphony Orchestra and Pierre-André Valade.

Latimer's approach to music is highlighted by his comment, "Playfulness invites an openness to all that surrounds oneself, allowing for the possibility to not only delight in new discoveries, but to also ask questions of those things one so readily takes for granted". 

The opening work on the disc, Mills Mess epitomises this playfulness and lively character, combined with a bright complexity. This is music which is fun yet complicated, weaving in a variety of influences in a tapestry which is rich, yet approachable. Commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music, Mills Mess, for large ensemble was first performed in January 2015 by the Manson Ensemble, the RAM’s contemporary music student ensemble, conducted by Oliver Knussen. The work takes its title from a popular juggling pattern, developed by Steve Mills in the 1970s, and noted for its visual discontinuity and practical complexity. Latimer is an amateur juggler himself, and he has created a work that is crowd-pleasing but tricksy.

In his passion for the music of Richard Wagner, Tony Cooper finds himself back in Deutschland attending yet another Ring cycle at Deutsche Oper Berlin

Wagner: Das Rheingold - Deutsche Oper, Berlin (Photo Bernd Uhlig)
Wagner: Das Rheingold - Deutsche Oper, Berlin (Photo Bernd Uhlig)

Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen; Dir: Stefan Herheim, cond: Donald Runnicles; Deutsche Oper Berlin

Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 16 November 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
Tony Cooper experiences Stefan Herheim's new Ring cycle in Berlin

Tony Cooper's review of Stefan Herheim's new production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, conducted by Donald Runnicles with Nina Stemme, Clay Hilley, Derek Welton, Iain Paterson, Brandon Jovanovich, Elisabeth Teige.

I’m back in Berlin, a city I favour and enjoy so much, ready for yet another Ring cycle at Deutsche Oper, a large, comfortable 1850-seat theatre boldly designed in the Modernist style and simply ideal for large-scale productions. And none come much larger than those penned by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner

From my hotel on Bayreutherstraße just off Wittenbergplatz, Berlin’s most fashionable department store, KaDeWe, stares me straight in the face while a quick three-stop tube journey drops me right at the doorstep of Deutsche Oper situated at the junction of Bismarckstraße and Richard-Wagner-Straße located in the western part of the city in Charlottenburg.

In fact, I was only here in the spring of last year feasting on Meyerbeer’s two great masterpieces Les Huguenots and Le prophète written at the peak of his career in 1836 and 1849 respectively. Interestingly, the finale of Le prophète - culminating in fire, destruction and death - closely mirrors the catastrophic ending of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.

Therefore, with my mind furiously on fast rewind, I fondly recall seeing the final performance of Götz Friedrich’s monumental (and well-loved) ‘Cold War’ Ring that ‘lived’ on Bismarckstraße for an astonishing amount of time: 33 years, in fact, from 1984 to 2017. A pretty good innings all round!

Now another Ring rises from the smouldering ashes of Valhalla at Deutsche Oper this time directed by multiple-award-winning Norwegian director, Stefan Herheim, who just happens to be a disciple of Götz Friedrich. He studied under him at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg from 1994 to 1999. A bit of the Old Master has surely rubbed off on him!

Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Nine Stemme - Deutsche Oper, Berlin (Photo Bernd Uhlig)
Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Nine Stemme - Deutsche Oper, Berlin (Photo Bernd Uhlig)

Götz Friedrich (as did Harry Kupfer) worked as an assistant to the well-respected Austrian-born theatre/opera director, Walter Felsenstein, the iconic boss of East Berlin's Komische Oper in the early post-war years. His philosophy was that opera went beyond singing to encompass music-theatre: the intersections between music, sound and theatrical performance. His productions focused on pure dramatic and musical values which were thoroughly researched and, indeed, finely balanced.  

Such a philosophy as this, I feel, defines Stefan Herheim’s direction. He pulls no punches and pays full attention to detail often incorporating ideological and historical references in his work. For instance, his celebrated production of Parsifal at Bayreuth in 2009, which I greatly enjoyed, used Parsifal and the search for the Holy Grail as a metaphor for the development of Germany as a Christian nation. 

He sparked controversy, though, when depicting the country under the absolute rule and order of the National Socialists. Strong and chilling stuff, maybe, but it was daring stuff nonetheless that showed his directorial style and prowess causing a few raised eyebrows along the way. However, I admire directors such as Herheim who pushes boundaries and challenges the status quo in opera especially with Wagner. 

Therefore, if Friedrich’s Ring focused on the big issue of his day, the threat of nuclear warfare, Herheim follows suit and his Ring focuses on the big issue of today, the refugee crisis, a subject that has been thrust into the limelight lately by the hordes of refugees, mainly from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, gathered together in freezing conditions at the Belarus-Polish border seeking refuge and hoping for a better and more fruitful life within the EU. 

Tuesday 23 November 2021

RVW 150: The Halle and BBC Philharmonic collaborate in season performing all of the composer's symphonies plus his symphonic ballet, Job

Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams
Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

Next year is the 150th anniversary of RVW's birth and to celebrate The Halle and BBC Philharmonic are once again collaborating to perform all of RVW's symphonies at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

The season opens in February 2022 with Mark Wigglesworth conducting the BBC Philharmonic in the Pastoral Symphony and Symphony No. 5, plus the orchestral version of On Wenlock Edge with tenor Alessandro Fisher. The BBC Philharmonic then returns with Sir Andrew Davis for Toward the Unknown Region (with the Halle Choir), Symphony No. 4 and Job, A Masque for Dancing. and John Wilson conducts the orchestra in Sinfonia Antartica and A London Symphony.

John Wilson conducts The Halle in Symphony No. 9 along with RVW's friend Holst's The Planets, whilst Sir Mark Elder conducts the orchestra in Symphony No. 6, A Sea Symphony with Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha and Roderick Williams, and Symphony No. 8 9which was dedicated to Elder's predecessor at The Halle, Sir John Barbirolli).

There is also a chance to hear RVW's Phantasy Quintet performed by string players from The Halle as part of the chamber music series at Halle St Peter's. Though not part of the official RVW 150 season, The Halle performs The Lark Ascending (with Kristine Balanas) and The Wasps Overture in a concert conducted by Ben Palmer.

Full details from the Bridgewater Hall's website.

From Stanford's Requiem to Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Catamorphosis: CBSO's season continues with new music, rarities as well as saying goodbye to Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's (CBSO) programme for the remainder of its 2021/22 season is something of a time of transition as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts her final concerts with the orchestra as chief conductor whilst chief conductor & artistic advisor designate, Kazuki Yamada conducts four concerts.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's season includes two with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, two of Weinberg's symphonies performed alongside music by his friend Shostakovich, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and with Mahler's Resurrection Symphony as her final concert.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will also be conducting the UK premiere of Catamorphosis by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Other new works in the season include the UK premiere of Danish composer Bent Sørensen’s Sei anime for harpsichord and orchestra, and Roxanna Panufnik’s reorchestrations of Five Polish Folk Songs originally arranged by her father, former CBSO Chief Conductor Sir Andrzej Panufnik, will be performed by the CBSO Children’s Chorus and CBSO Youth Chorus.

Joshua Weilerstein will be conducting the UK premiere of The Ordering of Moses by Black, Canadian-American composer Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) with soloists Chrystal E Williams and Rodrick Dixon. Another rarity is Stanford's Requiem which was commissioned by the Birmingham Triennial Festival; Martyn Brabbins conducts the CBSO with University of Birmingham Voices and soloists Carolyn Sampson, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, James Way and Ross Ramgobin. And Ryan Bancroft will be conducting a new reconstructon of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Solemn Prelude

Full details from the CBSO website.

New music and fireworks: Maxim Emelyanychev and Scottish Chamber Orchestra announce concerts for January to May 2022

Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Maxim Emelyanychev (Photo Ryan Buchanan)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Maxim Emelyanychev (Photo Ryan Buchanan)

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) has announced the remainder of its 2021/22 season with an array of concerts and online events for January to May 2022 with concerts in Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Inverness, Aberdeen and Perth.

Chief conductor Maxim Emelyanychev conducts five programmes, as well as performing Schubert's Trout Quintet with SCO principals. Emelyanychev's concerts range from collaborations with cellist Steven Isserlis and with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor to an all-Mozart programme with Emelyanychev directing Piano Concerto No. 20 from the keyboard. Stravinsky features twice, with Pulcinella given as part of the SCO's digital season, and The Firebird Suite in a concert which also features Alina Ibragimova in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1.  Emelyanychev conducts an Easter performance of Handel's Messiah with Anna Dennis, Xavier Sabata, Andrew Staples and Matthew Brook and the SCO Chorus (the first time chorus and orchestra will have performed together for two years). 

The SCO Chorus also features in Andrew Manze's concert with the orchestra, A Very British Adventure which includes RVW's Flos Campi with Timothy Ridout (viola), Britten's Lachrymae, Grace Williams' Sea Sketches and the world premiere of Anna Clyne's The Years. This latter is an SCO commission as part her role as SCO Associate Composer. Clyne has also been working with three emerging composers, Electra Perivolaris, Gillian Walker and Georgina MacDonell Finlayson and each has written a new work inspired by the art of storytelling and these three will be premiered as part of SCO's digital season.

Pekka Kuusisto has a three concert residency, directing three concerts from the violin including two American programmes, one with the SCO Chamber Ensemble featuring music by Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and Steve Reich, and another including the UK premiere of Nico Muhly's Violin Concerto alongside music by Missy Mazzoli, Stravinsky, Copland and Barber. Kuusisto's third concert features the world premiere of Karine Polwart and Pippa Murphy's Seek the Light, an SCO Commission. Other new music in the season includes the world premiere of Laurent Petitgirard's oboe concerto Souen Wou K'ong performed by oboist Francois Leleux, for whom it was written.

Lorenza Borrani joins the orchestra for the first time, directing a concert from the violin that pairs the music of Haydn with that of Bruno Maderna (1920-1973).

The SCO's digital season includes a Mendelssohn weekend in May with Kristian Bezuidenhout and Nicola Benedetti including the Violin Concerto and Octet.

The orchestra is also continuing its five-year intergenerational community residency in the Greater Craigmillar area of Edinburgh with projects with everyone from nursery school pupils to people living with dementia. Beyond the project, the orchestra's Creative Learning programme provides inclusive and accessible creative workshops and performances in schools, hospitals and community venues across Scotland and online.

Full details from the SCO website.

Monday 22 November 2021

Welcome Party

Cevanne Horrocks Hopayian at 575 Wandsworth Road
Cevanne Horrocks Hopayian at 575 Wandsworth Road 

Composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian spent much of 2015-2017 at 575 Wandsworth Road, London, the home of the late Kenyan-born polymath Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006), where her London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub residency took place. She composed works inspired both by the house and its creator, but also by venue's acoustic properties. The results are on display in Horrocks-Hopayian's disc Welcome Party on NMC Records.

On Saturday, Horrocks-Hopayian hosted a welcome party of her own, at Fidelio Cafe, to launch the album. As the album features Girton College Choir, the London Symphony Orchestra and many others, the album launch features new arrangements of works from the disc, performed by vocalist Ziazan, saxophonist Trish Clowes, a string quartet made up of members of the London Symphony Orchestra (Ellie Fagg, Tom Norris, Malcolm Johnston, Laure Le Dantec), and Horrocks-Hopayian herself.

The music varied from a piece that used found sounds from the house, to another which used the acoustics of the house itself, and of course the intricacies of Asalache's fretwork, which Horrocks-Hopayian reflected both in the music and by cutting fretwork into a score (and thus leaving space for Clowes' improvisations). Asalache's own words also featured in two of the numbers.

Full details of Welcome Party from NMC's website. 575 Wandsworth Road is now owned by the National Trust and will re-open in the Spring.

York Christmas Boxed Set

York Christmas Boxed Set

The National Centre for Early Music in York has been producing concerts both live and online during the past year, and now they have packaged up seven as a delightful Christmas boxed set. The York Christmas Box Set costs £40 with the films available to view from 17 December 2021 to 14 January 2022. 

So, over your Christmas holiday you can watch the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's A Baroque Christmas, Siglo de Oro in with dance-infused 17th Century Mexican music, The Gesualdo Six's In Winter's House with Christmas music across the decades, Prisma in new arrangements of Christmas music, Pocket Sinfonia evoking 19th century salons, James Gilchrist and Matthew Wadsworth in Divine Love and Earthly Passions with music by Purcell, Schubert and Dowland, and Battaglia with Bojan Čičić (violin), Gawain Glenton (cornet) and Silas Wollston (organ).

Full information from the NCEM website.

Light of Shore: debut disc from Belfast-based composer Anselm McDonnell

Anselm McDonnell Light of Shore; Cahal Masterson, Isabelle O'Connell, William Cole, Chris Roberts, Martin Johnson

Anselm McDonnell Light of Shore; Cahal Masterson, Isabelle O'Connell, William Cole, Chris Roberts, Martin Johnson

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Past and present intertwine in Belfast-based Anselm McDonnell's debut disc featuring a series of solo suites that challenge us both musically and intellectually

Anselm McDonnell is a composer of Irish/Welsh heritage who lives in Belfast, and his debut album Light of Shore, released on his own label, features a series of solo works which examine stories from the past and how they impact the present. The disc features suites for solo piano (Cahal Masterson and Isabelle O'Connell), double bass and electronics (William Cole), guitar (Chris Roberts) and cello and electronics (Martin Johnson).

McDonnell studied at both Queen's University, Belfast and Cardiff University, and in 2020 complete a PhD in Music Composition at Queen's University supervised by Piers Hellawell. He is also an award-winning guitarist, performing contemporary works on electric and classical guitars.

Sunday 21 November 2021

Texas Skies

Texas Skies is a work for two pianos by Mexican-American composer Nathan Felix. The work is inspired by Felix’s childhood memories of driving through Texas on family vacations and subsequent adventures to Marfa, Balmorhea, Alpine, Longview, Amarillo, Laredo and more. The work is in four movements: I. West Texas   II. East Texas   III. The Panhandle IV. The Wall.

During lockdown, Felix approached pianist Timo Andres who recorded and filmed both piano parts, with the results then being mixed by Danny Reisch of Good Danny's. Download from Bandcamp or Spotify.

Saturday 20 November 2021

From jazz and groove to classical: I chat to composer and improvising trombonist Alex Paxton about his three recent works nominated for this years Ivors Composer Awards

Alex Paxton (Photo Peter Tainsh)
Alex Paxton (Photo Peter Tainsh)

Alex Paxton
has been nominated for three works in two categories in this year's Ivors Composer Awards, he is also a first time nominee. For the second in my series of interviews with composers nominated in this year's awards, I recently chatted to Alex about his three works, Bye and Corncrack Dreams in the Jazz Composition category, and Sometimes Voices in the Small Chamber Composition category. Bye, for small jazz ensemble and improvisor, premiered on 5 November 2020 at Milton Court with the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra directed by Scott Stroman [live stream, and see the review in London Jazz News). Corncrack Dreams for trombone, keyboard and drums was commissioned by Nevis Ensemble and North Uist Distillery and premiered on a Nonclassical release which came out in February, I hope this finds you well in these strange times, vol. 3. Sometimes Voices for keyboard and drums was commissioned by Hyper Duo and premiered by them on 4 June 2020 as part of a streamed concert.

Alex is both a composer and an improvising trombonist, writing music that is stylistically pluralist and informed by his life as a jazz musician & improvisor. Whilst his work crossed the boundaries between jazz and classical, he tends to write the music he wants to write, though he is conscious of the musicians that he might be writing for. And in our chat, he distinguished between three distinct groups of musicians, classical musicians such as orchestras like the London Symphony Orchestra, musicians who are very much engaged with contemporary music, and groove musicians, those who have an important intelligence about them in groove music. When Alex writes a part for an improvisor, he is writing either for himself or for someone who has a voice.

When composing it is more natural for him to write the dots, and he admits that as a composer he wants to make all the decisions. He describes improvisation as 'quick composing', whilst composing is slow improvisation with editing. He wants to make the creative decisions when he writes something out so that he can make the most magic of something possible. When writing for an improvisor he leaves a bubble for another voice, often himself but his pieces work with another voice too. But he is not after a free for all, he is interested in a certain set of energies that improvisors would bring to a work.

Alex Paxton
Alex Paxton

Friday 19 November 2021

Double bass player Leon Bosch celebrates Bottesini's bi-centenary in style

Giovanni Bottesini with his Testore double bass in 1865
Giovanni Bottesini with his Testore double bass in 1865

Giovanni Bottesini's bicentenary falls next month (22 December 2021), and thankfully the composer's music is having something of a little revival. He was evidently quite a character, combining the careers of double bass virtuoso, conductor and composer, and he was selected by Verdi to conduct the first performance of Aida in Cairo. His skill as a virtuoso on the double bass helped revolutionise the playing technique of his instrument and it is double bass players who often have a lot to be thankful for.

Double bass player Leon Bosch is currently celebrating his 60th birthday with a concert at the Wigmore Hall on 7 December 2021 which places Bottesini's music firmly in focus. Bosch and his ensemble, I Musicanti, will be performing Bottesini's Grand Quintet in C minor Op. 99 for two violins, viola, cello and double bass, his Elegy No. 1 in D for double bass and piano, and Tarantella, alongside music by Beethoven and Dvorak, and a new piece by Bosch's fellow South African, Grant McLachlan. [full details from the Wigmore Hall website]

Bottesini's Grand Quintet in C minor was written in 1858 whilst the composer was staying in Naples, and it is dedicated to Bottesini's friend, the opera composer Saverio Mercadante, whilst Bottesini's Elegy seems to transfer the bel canto style the composer knew from his operatic career to his own instrument. 

Bosch and I Musicanti have recorded the Grand Quintet along with Bottesini's String Quintets in E minor & A major (both premiere recordings) for SOMM records and the disc is being released on Bottesini's 200th birthday, 22 December 2021 [see Leon Bosch's website].  Whilst Bosch's latest solo disc for Meridian, with Sung-Suk Kang, includes not only the Elegy and Tarantella but other quasi-operatic works by Bottesini such as the Fantasie Sonnambula [see Meridian website

From a puppet 'Liederspiel' to men behaving badly: Thomas Guthrie and Barokksolistene at Temple Music

The Alehouse Session - Thomas Guthrie, Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene in Oslo (Photo Knut Utler)
The Alehouse Session - Thomas Guthrie, Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene in Oslo (Photo Knut Utler)

Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, The Alehouse Sessions; Thomas Guthrie, Bjarte Eike, Barokksolistene; Temple Music at Middle Temple Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 November 2021 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A very free interpretation of Schubert's song cycle which returned the work to its roots, and an evocation of a 17th century alehouse in an evening which by turns dazzled the imagination and frustrated.

Last night's Temple Music concert at Middle Temple Hall brought together several different strands with director and baritone Thomas Guthrie at their centre. Guthrie's association with Middle Temple goes back to when he sang with Temple Church Choir, and more recently he has directed such events as Purcell's The Fairy Queen there. Guthrie also has a long association with Bjarte Eike's Barokksolistene, performing with them as singer and violinist in their iconic Alehouse Sessions. And Guthrie's own recent projects with his Music and Theatre for All [see my interview with him] include plans to reinterpret the three great Schubert song-cycles, bringing an element of story-telling back to them. And in fact, last night's audience included participants in another of his projects, Lewisham Urban Opera.

So, on 18 November 2021, Thomas Guthrie, Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene presented a theatrically staged event in Middle Temple Hall which saw Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin in a dramatic re-interpretation performed by Guthrie along with puppeteer Sean Garrett and narrator Rhiannon Harper Rafferty, plus a new accompaniment from Barokksolistene. Then after the interval we gathered for one of Barokksolistene's Alehouse Sessions. The result was an evening of music making which pushed the boundaries of convention in various imaginative ways, and by turns delighted, intrigued and frustrated.

When we listen to a work such as Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin performed today, it is so iconic and all-embracing that performers rarely interrogate the piece's form, function and dramatic structure. It's origins are somewhat anecdotal, contemporaries of the composer remembering stories after his death, and the tradition of performing the work as a whole only started some twenty-something years after Schubert's death. Indeed, the idea of a public song-recital as such was a later 19th century development, and with limited public performances of his music during his lifetime, Schubert can hardly have anticipated his work being at the centre of an iconic recital tradition.

Thursday 18 November 2021

All 272 members of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music's community airlifted out of Kabul and en route for a new home in Portugal

Members of ANIM community leave Kabul for Doha, Qatar, on November 11 (photo: courtesy of ANIM)
Members of ANIM community leave Kabul for Doha, Qatar, on 11 November (photo: courtesy of ANIM)

"Music education and performance is vital in rebuilding a war-torn country and contributing to the establishment of a just and civil society." - Dr Ahman Sarmast

Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, son of the late well-known Afghan composer, conductor, and musician Ustad Sarmast, founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010 as a direct counter to the war-torn country's lack of resources for teaching what has historically been and important and vibrant part of Afghan culture. The school, where students are taught Afghan and Western classical music as well as receiving a general education, was a great success, with ensembles such as the Afghan Youth Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and Zohra, the all-women orchestra.

This was threatened when the Taliban took over the country again in August, and the Taliban’s top spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told the New York Times that because music was “forbidden in Islam,” it would “not be allowed in public,” and the Taliban “hoped to persuade people not to listen to it.”

Since 2 October 2021 there have been a series of airlifts from Kabul airport, and recently the fifth such has taken place which means that all 272 students, faculty, staff and family members from ANIM are currently in Qatar, en route for Portugal where they have been granted asylum and plan to rebuild the music centre.

Performers from ANIM in concert
Performers from ANIM in concert

The rescued ANIM community encompasses both master musicians like Ustad Rasool Azizi, who at 85 years old is a leading exponent of traditional Afghan music on the tanbur, down to the young students including including violinist Gulmeena Khushdi, aged 20, who commented, "The Taliban took away our freedom and all our rights. We did not even have a safe place to live. Now we have our freedom back, I hope to live my life and pursue my dream of becoming a successful musician."

The whole project has been a complex international one, involving  the State of Qatar, which provided aircraft, diplomatic assistance and temporary accommodation, and the government of Portugal, where ANIM community members have been granted group asylum, as well as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductor Daniel Barenboim, and other members of the artistic community, as well as politicians, philanthropists, diplomacy experts, military veterans and pro bono lawyers.

Further information from the ANIM website, where it is also possible to donate to help support them.

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