Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Part oratorio, part rave: Conor Mitchell's MASS headlines Belfast's Outburst Queer Art Festival and involves the Ulster Orchestra, four soloists and six queer film makers

Image from MASS by Madonna Adib.
Image from MASS by Madonna Adib.

The Northern Irish composer and theatre maker Conor Mitchell popped up on this blog earlier this year when his piece, The Musician: A Horror Opera for Children was presented at the Belfast Children's Festival by the Belfast Ensemble, of which Mitchell is artistic director. The Musician was a terrific piece, which I caught on-line [see my article], now Mitchell is returning to the stage collaboration with the Ulster Orchestra.

Conor Mitchell's MASS is being presented at the 15th Outburst Queer Art Festival on 17 and 18 November 2021 at the Telegraph Building, Belfast. This is the second time that Mitchell's work has headlined the festival, in 2019 his work, Abomination: DUP Opera was performed at Outburst. The new work, MASS is described at part oratorio and part rave, the audience will be able to walk around the space and view the 64 musicians of the Ulster Orchestra, along with four soloists soprano Giselle Allen, mezzo Sarah Richmond, baritone Christopher Cull and tenor John Porter, conducted by Conor Mitchell.

Six films by queer international filmmakers - Madonna Adib (Syria), Paulo Mendel & Vi Grunvald (Brazil), Mariah Garnett (USA), Simone Harris (Jamaica), Mohammad Shawky Hassan (Egypt), Debalina Majumder (India) - will be projected in cinematic scale onto the walls of the building.

Full details from the Outburst website.

A sense of exploration and discovery: Jommelli's Il Vologeso in a live recording from Ian Page and the Mozartists

Jommelli Il Vologeso; Stuart Jackson, Rachel Kelly, Gemma Summerfield, Angela Simkin, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Signum Classics

Jommelli Il Vologeso; Stuart Jackson, Rachel Kelly, Gemma Summerfield, Angela Simkin, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Signum Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A live recording of The Mozartists performance from 2016 reveals an exciting exploration of an opera notable for its sense of drama and innovation

When Ian Page and Classical Opera performed Niccolo Jommelli's 1766 opera Il Vologeso at Cadogan Hall in 2016, it was simply part of their Mozart 250 project, exploring influential works from 1766. Jommelli's operas are important waystations in the journey from high baroque to classical but they don't get that many outing so this was lovely opportunity to hear one live, with a fine young cast. But five years later, and with 18 months of enforced quiet, Ian Page started to think about the recording that had been made of the performance. There were downsides, the opera wasn't performed complete (the evening lasted three hours as it was) and as there was a fine studio recording already on disc, there was no thought of a commercial recording so there was no patching, this really was live.

Thankfully, the decision was made to release it so we now have the wonderfully vivid recording of Niccolo Jommelli's Il Vologeso on Signum Classics. Ian Page conducts The Mozartists (Classical Opera renamed itself in the meanwhile), with Stuart Jackson as the Roman emperor Lucio Vero, Rachel Kelly as the Parthian king Vologeso, Gemma Summerfield as Vologeso's wife Berenice, Angela Simkin as Lucilla,  Lucio Vero's betrothed, Jennifer France as Flavio, ambassador and Lucilla's father, and Tom Verney as Ancieto, Lucio Vero's confidant.

The story is simply one of Emperors behaving badly, Lucio Vero defeats Vologeso and pursues his wife, who remains steadfast and true. There are echoes here both of Handel's Rodelina and Radamisto, but the plot is a standard trope. The libretto Jommelli set is at two removes, a rewrite of a rewrite, and the words he set were created by long-time collaborator Mattia Verazi We are a long way from the cool classicism of Metastasio, so that though the basic form is still recitative and aria, stuff actually happens. The finale of Act One is in the Roman arena where Vologeso is being fed to the lions, Berenice leaps in to join him and thus makes Lucio Vero throw Vologeso a sword so that he (and thus Berenice) can survive. Thrilling stuff.

And Verazi's text is more uneven, more dramatic than Metastasio's, though it has to be confessed that Jommelli's secco recitative can chug somewhat, despite the best efforts of the cast who have clearly invested a lot in it. Being a live performance and with singers taking care over the words and text, this really does sound like a drama. Granted, the rate of delivery can be a bit steady for those used to the way the live performances from Göttingen International Handel Festival can rattle along.

The opera was written for the Duke of Württemberg's brand-new Schlosstheater at Ludwigsburg. The duke was an opera lover and spent money he did not have (Ian Page's booklet article details the profoundly tragic consequences of the overspending) on opera. And the duke had been to Paris, liked French opera, whilst Jommelli had revised one of his Italian operas for Paris. The French influence is felt in Jommelli's Stuttgart operas, and in Il Vologeso it is in the form of accompanied recitative. At moments of stress, the characters launch into accompanied recitatives, there are are whopping ten on the disc including Berenice's five-minute scene in Act Three where she is imprisoned and imagines her husband dead.

Another French influence is that Jommelli and Verazi are by no means fixated on the da capo aria and the exit aria. Where Handel could, occasionally, break the rules for dramatic effect, here the drama flows in a distinctly idiosyncratic way and made me think of Handel's early opera Teseo which was his first attempt to marry French dramaturgy with Italian opera seria and did away with the exit aria.

The fascinating thing is that the opera seems to just as interested in Lucio Verio as well as Berenice (and far more than Vologeso). And here we come to another of Jommelli's innovations, the amazing dissolving finale; in Acts One and Two, the finale starts as an ensemble but characters pare away. So at the end of Act Two a trio between Vologeso, Berenice and Lucio Vero, where Vero has put the pair in chains but they remain steadfast, dissolves into a puzzled solo for Lucio Vero where he tries to come to terms with the fact that Berenice simply does not love him. Similarly the crucial quartet at the end of Act One, for Vologeso, Berenice, Lucio Vero and Lucilla, which comes at the end of the scene in the arena, dissolves into a duet for Vologeso and Berenice.

The arias are well fashioned and expressive, though Jommelli lacks Handel, Vivaldi and Gluck's various abilities to create music which is toe-tapping, and like his contemporary Hasse (some 15 years older than Jommelli), Jommelli is adept at creating virtuoso music. But it never feels completely like show for show's sake, and the allocation of arias is closer to what we might expect from the drama rather than allotting the lead role eight, because that is how many are his due.

dream.risk.sing: Samantha Crawford and Lana Bode explore women's lives in song at Oxford Lieder Festival

dream.risk.sing - Lana Bode, Samantha Crawford - Oxford Lieder Festival
dream.risk.sing - Lana Bode, Samantha Crawford - Oxford Lieder Festival

- Dvorak, Judith Weir, Charlotte, Bray, Carson Cooman, Ricky Ian Gordon, Helen Grime, Florence Price, Michele Brourman; Samantha Crawford, Lana Bode; Oxford Lieder Festival (on-line)

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 October 2021
Two young performers in a personal project to explore women's lives in the concert hall, using song to look at topics as various as motherhood, discrimination and loss, complex and striking subjects with some powerful contemporary responses

Soprano Samantha Crawford and pianist Lana Bode's dream.risk.sing is very much a personal project, aimed at creating a song recital which explored women's experiences. Predominantly, though not necessarily women composers, but music which takes women's lives as its subject matter rather than the purely masculine gaze of much of the classic repertoire. Crawford and Bode developed the programme during 2020 and will be recording it for Delphian Records in 2022.

On Wednesday 20 September 2021, Samantha Crawford and Lana Bode debuted dream.risk.sing at a late-night concert at the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building as part of the Oxford Lieder Festival. The programme included music by Dvorak, Carson Cooman, Ricky Ian Gordon, Helen Grime, Florence Price and Michele Brourman, plus songs from a new version of Judith Weir's and the premiere of a newly commission cycle by Charlotte Bray. We caught the recital on catch-up, via the Oxford Lieder Festival website.

The repertoire was very much in the contemporary, with only Dvorak providing a nod to classic repertoire, and a Florence Price song providing a welcome continuation of the exploration of her neglected output. This emphasis is not surprising, in the 19th century female composers were often concerned to match their male counterparts, and songs often evoke elements of the male gaze. What wouldn't we give to have a response to Schumann and Chamisso's Frauen-liebe und Leben from Clara Schumann and a contemporary woman poet!

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Michael Stimpson's The Angry Garden released on Vinyl

Michael Stimpson: The Angry Garden
Composer Michael Stimpson's The Angry Garden was originally premiered in 2002 at at St John’s Smith Square in support of the World Wildlife Fund. A five-movement work for soli, choir and orchestra, written in collaboration with the poet Simon Rae, the work addresses the sense of environmental degradation that was already apparent then. This makes the work even more relevant than ever, and a new recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of London Choir, and conductor Hilary Davan Wetton is being released on vinyl today.

The Angry Garden has recently been released on CD, and now is available in a deluxe, limited-edition LP. The recording has been produced to minimise environmental impact with the vinyl LP being produced by Deepgrooves Vinyl Pressing Plant in the Netherlands whose strict Eco-policy ensures that they are ‘the greenest vinyl pressing plant on the planet’. The LP/recording is also widely available digitally, on Amazon and Michael Stimpson's website, and distributed worldwide. Michael has decided that only extracts of the piece will be available to stream since in his opinion streaming organisations do not operate a fair and equitable system for sharing income from their activities

A series of little gems: Reels, Drones & Jigs from the ensemble Perpetuo

Reels, Drones & Jigs; Perpetuo; Champs Hill Records

Reels, Drones & Jigs
; Perpetuo; Champs Hill Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A delightful and imaginative programme of shorter contemporary pieces, all with a folk-inspired element with Scots and Irish dance featuring strongly

This latest disc from the ensemble Perpetuo on the Champs Hill label is intriguingly entitled Reels, Drones & Jigs consists of 12 short(ish) pieces based variously on traditional music, with a preponderance using Scots and Irish music, by an admirably wide range of composers, Ailie Robertson, Aidan O'Rourke, Alasdair Nicolson, David Fenessy, Donald Grant, Judith Weir, Adrian Sutton, James MacMillan, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Matthews, Melinda Maxwell and Cecilia McDowall. Perpetuo, founded by oboist James Turnbull in 2013, is a flexible ensemble which performs traditional and contemporary chamber music, here featuring Fenella Humphreys (violin), Andrew Berridge (viola), Cara Berridge (cello), Lindsey Ellis (flute/piccolo), James Turnbull (oboe/cor anglais), Sara Sarvamaa (clarinet/bass clarinet), David Horwich (French horn), Eanna Monaghan (bassoon) and Libby Burgess (piano).

Competitions, scholarships, traineeships and ambassadors: opportunities and support for young musicians in York, Leeds and London

Conductor Kay Solomon, who takes part in Opera North's first Female Conductor Traineeship
Conductor Kay Solomon, who takes part in
Opera North's first Female Conductor Traineeship
A competition for Early Music ensembles in York aimed at young performers, a new choral scholarship programme in London for singers aged 18 to 25, a new Female Conductor Traineeship and two new ambassadors for a London-based education charity.

The York Early Music International Artists Competition has announced that applications are open for the 2022 competition, which will take place on Saturday 16 July 2022 at the National Centre for Early Music in York as part of York Early Music Festival. The competition is open to Early Music ensembles with a minimum of three members, and an average age of 33 years or under, with a maximum age of 37 years for individuals, plus they must demonstrate historically informed performance practice and play repertory from any period, spanning the Middle Ages to the 19th century, on period instruments. Closing date for applications is 14 January 2022. Details from the National Centre for Early Music's website.

London Oriana Choir has announced a new choral scholarship programme, offering a select number of funded places for singers aged 18-25 for its 2021-22 season, as part of its commitment to support aspiring young singers. The scheme is open to anyone who enjoys singing, whether those studying music, starting their music careers or simply wanting to expand their singing and performance opportunities. Application deadline is midnight on 31 October 2021, further details from the choir's website.

French-British conductor Kay Salomon will join Opera North in Leeds at the end of this year to take part in the Company’s new Female Conductor Traineeship. Recognising that talented female conductors are less likely to find a way into the industry than their male counterparts, the initiative offers wide-ranging experience and support,  including two dedicated workshops under the guidance of Opera North’s Music Director Garry Walker, providing first-hand experience of conducting the Orchestra of Opera North; and a series of one-to-ones with Opera North Music Staff and leading conductors. Further details from the Opera North website.

And London Music Fund has announced the appointment of two new ambassadors, saxophonist Jess Gillam and cellist Abel Selaocoe. These two join Nicola Benedetti, YolanDa Brown, Jools Holland and Simon Cowell among others as Ambassadors of the music education charity. The Ambassadors play a significant role within the charity, both promoting its work, and as inspiring role models for young musicians. The Fund works with every London borough to provide outstanding progression and development opportunities to children and young people who demonstrate musical potential and a commitment to learning an instrument. Further information from the Fund's website.

Monday, 25 October 2021

Britten Pears Arts celebrates Britten's birthday with John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London

Frank Bridge; Benjamin Britten; Ethel Bridge by Unknown photographer snapshot print NPG x15184 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten, Ethel Bridge by Unknown photographer
snapshot print NPG x15184 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Britten Pears Arts is celebrating Benjamin Britten's birthday over the weekend of 20-22 November 2021 with a pair of concerts by John Wilson and his Sinfonia of London at Snape Maltings, plus other events at Snape and the Red House.

For their first concert John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London are joined by pianist Pavel Kolesnikov for Britten's Piano Concerto along with the tone poem Mai Dun by Britten's teacher at the Royal College of Music, John Ireland, and RVW's A London Symphony. For their second concert, Wilson and his orchestra are joined by tenor Ian Bostridge for Britten's Nocturne, along with Lament by Britten's teacher and mentor, Frank Bridge, Serenade for Strings by Britten's friend Lennox Berkeley and Ballade for Strings by Arthur Benjamin with whom Britten studied piano at the Royal College of Music.

The Red House will be open on Saturday 20 November, with a display of  manuscripts, diaries, photographs and letters relating to the composers featured in the weekend’s concerts, there is also a study morning relating to the works being performed and on Britten's birthday, 22 November 2021, the Red House presents outdoor performances in the garden of Britten’s A Hymn to St Cecilia throughout the afternoon and a special display in the Archive of items relating to Britten’s birthday and to St Cecilia. There will be a chance to explore the house.  

Further details from Britten Pears Arts website.

Northern Ireland Opera's film, Old Friends and Other Days, to premiere at Belfast Film Festival

Director Cameron Menzies with the cast of Northern Ireland Opera's film, Old Friends and Other Days,
Director Cameron Menzies with the cast of Northern Ireland Opera's film, Old Friends and Other Days,

Northern Ireland Opera
's film, Old Friends and Other Days, has been selected for the Belfast Film Festival and it will premiere  at the Strand Arts Centre in Belfast on 10 November. The film was created during lockdown last year, with Renewal and Stability funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. 

Directed by Cameron Menzies, the company's artistic director, Old Friends and Other Days takes songs by Irish composer William Wallace and his contemporary William Balfe, performed by Carolyn Dobbin, Mary McCabe, Emma Morwood, and Sinéad O’Kelly, with a cast which includes dancers and actors from across Northern Ireland. The result is a 45-minutes combination of song, cinema and storytelling.

Further information from the Belfast Film Festival website, and you can watch the trailer on YouTube.

Mad, messy and marvellous: Richard Strauss' Die ägyptische Helena at Fulham Opera

Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena - Brian Smith Walters, Justine Viani - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Coughlan)
Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena - Brian Smith Walters, Justine Viani - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Coughlan)

Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena; Justine Viani, Brian Smith Walters, Luci Briginshaw, Oliver Gibbs, dir: Guido Martin-Brandis, cond: John Paul C Jennings; Fulham Opera at St John's Church, Fulham

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 October 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
only the work's second UK staging, Fulham Opera take on Strauss and Hofmannsthal's impossible opera and make it work brilliantly

Richard Strauss' Die ägyptische Helena remains something of the ugly duckling amongst the operas he wrote with Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Premiered in Dresden in 1928, it has rarely been performed in the UK. Having staged such enterprises as Wagner's Ring Cycle and The Mastersingers, as well as Verdi's Don Carlo, Fulham Opera has bravely moved on to Strauss' Die ägyptische Helena, only the work's second ever staging in the UK. When I chatted to Fulham Opera's musical director Ben Woodward in 2019 [see my interview], a possibility of Die ägyptische Helena was in the offing (Strauss operas were coming out of copyright), but what with the events of the last 18 months or so, it has taken the company sometime to create, yet they have remained firm of purpose and are presenting a total of six performances.

We caught Richard Strauss' Die ägyptische Helena at St John's Church, Fulham on Sunday 24 October 2021. The production was directed by Guido Martin-Brandis, the musical director was Ben Woodward and the performance we saw was conducted by John Paul C Jennings, the company's assistant conductor. Brian Smith Walters was Menelas, Justine Viani was Helena, Luci Briginshaw was Aithra, Oliver Gibbs was Altair, Dominic J Walsh was Da'ud and Ingeborg Borch was the Omniscient Mussel. Designs were by Alexander McPherson. The work was performed in Paul Plummer's arrangement for violin, cello, clarinet, horn, percussion and organ.

Die ägyptische Helena has a number of themes which seem to link to Strauss and Hofmannsthal's previous collaboration, Die Frau ohne Schatten - the fascination with magic, the intersection of the earthly and the otherworldly, the repairing of a fractured marital relationship. The centrepiece of the work is Menelas and Helena's relationship, just before the opera starts he is attempting to kill her in revenge for her leaving him for Paris, and throughout the opera Menelas seems to be suffering from PTSD. This is not helped by the interventions of the sorceress Aithra who creates a phantom Helena, and Menelas becomes confused (partly drug induced) by the real and the unreal. It is Helena who realised that reality is most important, and this leads to the opera's climax.

Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena - Justine Viani, Natasha Elliott, Luci Briginshaw - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Coughlan)
Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena - Justine Viani, Natasha Elliott, Luci Briginshaw - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Coughlan)

But, as in Ariadne auf Naxos, Hofmannsthal seems to have delighted in putting together seemingly incompatible worlds. So just as in Ariadne where there worlds of musical comedy (Zerbinetta) and serious opera (Ariadne) intersect but never interact, so in Die ägyptische Helena happenstance brings Aithra, Menelas and Helena together but their musical worlds are separate. Aithra, her elves and her Omniscient Mussel have a lighter, comic aspect which owes something to the fact that Strauss' initial idea for the opera was as a musical comedy. Then in Act Two, after Helena and Menelas successful (drug-induced) bliss for the second wedding-night descends into arguing again, the action is taken over by Altair the desert prince. The passion Altair and his son Da'ud feel for Helena is perhaps intended to echo, in Menelas, memories of the way the Trojan princes swooned over Helena and Menelas does indeed kill Da'ud thinking he is Paris, again. But in execution Altair and Da'ud are pure musical comedy, their eruption into the opera feels as if we have suddenly moved into Sigmund Romberg's 1926 musical The Desert Song

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Pandemic, politics & pent-up ideas: I chat to composer Tim Corpus about his recent disc, and the challenge of balancing a varied career.

Tim Corpus
Tim Corpus
The American composer Tim Corpus' recent disc, MMXX, [see my review] as its name suggests, arises directly out of the events of 2020, both the pandemic and the politics. Tim lives in the Chicago area and trained at Chicago College of Performing Arts; he has quite a varied career, combining that of performer, arts administrator, composer of both concert music and film music, and now music for video games too. The music on MMXX mixes live instruments with electronics, and I recently chatted to Tim about how the music on the new disc relates to his other works, how he balances the various aspects of his career and much else besides.

He describes the music MMXX as 'very me', and whilst it might seem to be something of a change from his earlier acoustic music, his use of electronics has been in the offing since 2016/17 whilst the constraints necessary in the pandemic encouraged the increase in the amount of electronics on the disc. Also, he has a new synthesiser and can generate sounds that don't exist in his concert music.

Friday, 22 October 2021

Overture: Meet the 21/22 Young Artists of the National Opera Studio

2021/22 young artists at National Opera Studio

The 2021/22 intake at the National Opera Studio has been in place for just four weeks, but we got a chance to hear the young artists performing last night, at a private event showcasing the singers and repetiteurs. This year is a highly unusual year, for the first time all the auditions were done online, either via recordings or live via Zoom rather than in person, and all the 2020/21 young artists are being offered additional coaching and support as associate artists

We heard seven singers (two were unfortunately ill, two were performing elsewhere, and one is still in transit), and three repetiteurs in a programme of arias, songs and duets by Monteverdi, Mozart, Rossini, Giordano, Bizet, Massenet, Debussy, Wagner, Weber, Lehar and Johann Strauss. 

We began with the closing duet from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea with soprano Inna Husieva, counter-tenor Logan Lopez Gonzalez, and pianist Alexsander Ribeiro de Lara, and ended with the concluding duet from Lehar's The Merry Widow with tenor Philip Clieve, soprano Laura Lolita Peresivana and pianist Chloe Kim. We also heard from soprano Aleksandra Chernenko, and baritones Kamohelo Tsotetsi and Josef Ahn, and pianists Elli Welsh and Nadia Kisseleva.

The National Opera Studio is hosting an open morning on 4 November, and its Wednesday lunchtime concerts continue in its Wandsworth home, a chance to catch the individual singers and pianists in recital. Sian Griffiths, Chloe Kim, Josef Ahn and Nadia Kisseleva perform on 17 November, and Laura Lolita Peresivana, Elli Welsh, Logan Lopez Gonzalez, Alexsander Ribeiro de Lara on 8 December.

The young artists will be giving a semi-staged concert with English National Opera Orchestra, conductor Richard Farnes at Cadogan Hall on 19 January 2022. The event is directed by Amy Lane. Further details from the National Opera Studio website.

London Handel Singing Competition 2021

Finalists of the 2021 London Handel Singing Competition: Bethany Horak-Hallett, Hilary Cronin, Kieran Rayner, Felix Kemp (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Finalists of the 2021 London Handel Singing Competition: Bethany Horak-Hallett, Kieran Rayner, Hilary Cronin, Felix Kemp (Photo Chris Christodoulou)

The 2021 Handel Singing Competition came to a conclusion on Wednesday, with soprano Hilary Cronin winning the First Prize and Audience Price, and mezzo-soprano Bethany Horak-Hallett winning the second prize. The other two finalists were baritones Kieran Rayner and Felix Kemp.

All four finalists performed a programme of Handel arias in front of a live audience at St George's Hannover Square, accompanied by the Lawrence Cummings and the London Handel Orchestra. Both prize winners receive cash prizes and the competition supports the continuing professional development of all the finalists by offering them guaranteed performance opportunities at the London Handel Festival in the future.

Hilary Cronin sang arias from Rinaldo, Semele and Brockes Passion. We caught Hilary Cronin this Summer as Mother in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel with British Youth Opera at Opera Holland Park [see my review] and in 2018 she was Mrs Waters in Spectra Ensemble's enterprising production of Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate at Grimeborn Festival [see my review].

Bethany Horak-Hallett sang Haec est Regina virginum HWV 235, and arias from Donna che in ciel HWV 233 and Theodora. Bethany Horak-Hallett sang solos in Handel's Dixit Dominus as part of the Monteverdi Choir in John Eliot Gardiner's BBC Prom this Summer [see my review] and as one of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's Rising Stars she was singing in their Bach, the Universe and Everything event earlier this year at Kings Place [see my review].

Kieran Rayner sang arias from Rodelinda, Agrippina, Theodora, Siroe and Serse. We have not managed to catch Kieran Rayner live recently, but encountered him in online projects in the last year or so, including with Longborough Opera, and VOPERA's L'enfant et les sortileges. 

Felix Kemp sang arias from Orlando, Samson, Apollo e Dafne, Dettingen Te Deum and Messiah. We caught him in London Song Festival's commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots [see my review] and keeping the Ethel Smyth theme, he is in Retrospect Opera's recording of Smyth's Fete Galante [see my review]. On Friday 29 October 2021, Felix Kemp is performing in London Song Festival's An Obsession with Decadence, exploring settings of poet Charles Beaudelaire [London Song Festival]

The event was live-streamed and is available on YouTube.

York Early Music Christmas Festival

York Early Music Christmas Festival

Christmas is definitely coming early to York, as the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) has announced the return of York Early Music Christmas Festival from 3 to 11 December 2021 at St Margaret’s Church and the University of York. Many of the concerts are staged by candlelight, with mulled wine available to complete the experience!

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's A Baroque Christmas opens things, and then performances include the Gesualdo Six's In Winter's House, a Mexican theme from Siglo de Oro’s Christmas in Puebla, tenor James Gilchrist and lutenist Matthew Wadsworth in Divine Love and Earthly Passions, the intriguing combination of Bojan Cicic - violin  Gawain Glenton - cornetto  and Silas Wollston - organ in Cornetto & violin: A Contest of Equals, York Bach Choir and many more. 

The programme includes one of finest young professional ensembles supported by the NCEM’s Creative Europe funded programme EEEmerging +; award-winning young artists Prisma, from Germany, present A Baroque Christmas in their very particular entertaining style. 

Full details from the NCEM website.

The sound possibilities of the piano have only one limit: our own imagination: Gustavo Díaz-Jerez's Metalaudios II on Ibs Classical

I wrote about Spanish composer Gustavo Díaz-Jerez's orchestral cycle, Maghek, inspired by the Canary Islands back in 2020 [see my record review], but Díaz-Jerez is also a pianist and he has returned to the studio as composer/performer for Metaludios II, two new books of pieces for piano (he has already recorded the previous three books) in which he explores new sound territories in the piano. Gustavo Díaz-Jerez comments that "Since the composition of the first metaludios, back in 2013, I have learned that the sound possibilities of the piano have only one limit: our own imagination."

Many of the pieces use electronics and inside-the-piano extended techniques not, Gustavo Díaz-Jerez hastens to add, as mere effects but as an integrated part of the discourse. And there is science too, pieces inspired by biology, psychoacoustics, astronomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as pure mathematics, and not to forget those pieces inspired by mythological figures.

Score for Gustavo Díaz-Jerez's Metaludios II
Part of score for Gustavo Díaz-Jerez's Metaludios II

There are 12 works on the disc (which is issued by Ibs Classical), and you can catch it on Spotify, and read more at the composer's website. The embedded video (above) is from the complete YouTube playlist.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Felix Yaniewicz: two recitals celebrating the new Edinburgh home for his square piano

The Yaniewicz and Green square piano
The Yaniewicz and Green square piano which features in the recitals

Earlier this year I wrote about an 1810 square piano [see my article] which bore the label Yaniewicz & Green, relating to the Polish-Lithuanian violin virtuoso and composer, Felix Yaniewicz who founded the first Edinburgh Festival in 1815. Now restored and bought by the Friends of Felix Yaniewicz, the piano has arrived in Edinburgh and there are two celebratory concerts planned, both at the Polish Ex-Combatants House, 11 Drummond Place, Edinburgh EH3 6PJ.

On 12 November 2021, Steven Devine plays pieces by Yaniewicz alongside contemporary composers with whom he was associated in different ways over the course of his career, Haydn, Mozart, Clementi, Dussek and Beethoven. And on 14 November 2021, Pawel Siwczak will perform Polish piano music of the 18th and early 19th century by Yaniewicz, Szymanowska, Lessel, Oginski and Chopin, many of whom were writing in exile, in Polonaise and Mazurka dance forms expressing nostalgia for their homeland.

Full details from the Felix Yaniewicz website.

Abel Selaocoe, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Harry Baker in Dalston and Hackney for noisenights

The Jago, Dalston (Photo Larry J Photography)
The Jago, Dalston (Photo Larry J Photography)

This Summer, noisenights developed an intriguing way of creating classical concerts, using crowdfunding so that only concerts that are popular with audiences go ahead, and putting concerts on in non-traditional venues. This Winter their season continues with two further events, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason will appear with pianist Harry Baker in Space 289, a converted railway arch in Bethnal Green, and cellist / composer Abel Selaocoe will bring his blend of European and African musical traditions to The Jago, Dalston.

On 4 December 2021, for noisenight three Abel Selaocoe will perform two sets at The Jago, which is in the old buildings of the Hackney Gazette printing press, the venue is known for hosting acts ranging from reggae to techno, but noisenight three will be The Jago’s first classical night. Selaocoe's 7pm and 9pm sets will be followed by a series of afrobeat and jazz bands across the club’s two floors into the early hours.

On 15 January 2022, for noisenight four Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Harry Baker perform two sets at Bethnal Green’s Space 289 with a programme that features Boulanger, Bach, and improvisations around folk songs and jazz standards, the Harry Baker's jazz trio play an aftershow set until late for anyone with tickets to the 9pm show.

Full details from noisenights' website.

Sunbirds, demons and hairy giants: Huang Ruo's The Book of Mountains and Seas premieres at the Royal Danish Opera

Premiere of Huang Ruo's The Book of Mountains and Seas
The Chinese-born American-resident composer Huang Ruo is an intriguing figure, mixing both Chinese traditional and Western classical music. Born in 1976, the year the Chinese Cultural Revolution ended, he was taught composition and piano by his father, also a composer, and his training at Shanghai Conservatory of Music involved both traditional Chinese and Western music. His education continued in the USA at Oberlin Conservatory and the Juilliard School. His opera Dr Sun Yat-Sen premiered at Opera Hong Kong in 2011 with a Chinese orchestra, whilst the version for Western classical orchestra with three Chinese instrumental musicians had its premiere at the Santa Fe Festival in 2014, and his 2015 opera Paradise Interrupted premiered at Spoleto Festival USA and then toured Asia and Europe.

Huang Ruo's latest opera The Book of Mountains and Seas premieres at Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen on 3 November 2021. The opera is an adaptation of the 2,400 year-old ancient Chinese creation myth-book of the same name and uses large-scale puppetry by Basil Twist. The performances are conducted by Paul Hillier with Ars Nova Copenhagen, and together, singers and puppeteers evoke a mythological world of sunbirds, demons and hairy giants.

The work is a co-commission by Beth Morrison Projects, Ars Nova (Copenhagen), Moss Arts Center/ Virginia Tech, Toronto Soundstreams, Koorbiennale, Hong Kong New Vision Festival, and Linda & Stuart Nelson, and will have its American premiere in January 2022 as part of the tenth annual PROTOTYPE Festival in New York.

Full details from the Royal Danish Opera website.

Composer Richard Blackford introduces 'Vision of Garden', his new work for the Bach Choir

The Bach Choir
The Bach Choir
Composer Richard Blackford's new choral work, Vision of a Garden is being premiered by the Bach Choir and Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor David Hill,  and baritone Gareth Brynmor John on 24 October 2021 at the Royal Festival Hall. The work arises directly out of events of last year and is based on Bach Choir member Peter Johnstone's ICU diaries, and it details Johnstone's experience of COVID-19. Here Richard Blackford introduces the background to the work:

During the pandemic and that eighteen months when live choral music was impossible I spoke frequently with choral conductor friends and colleagues to explore what could still be achieved under those limiting circumstances. I supported several virtual choral projects, and also wrote solo works for saxophonist Amy Dickson and violinist Madeleine Mitchell about the pandemic experience, which were filmed by them and posted online. However, like many composers, I longed for an opportunity to write for a live choral performance once restrictions were lifted, and to reflect in music our and others’ experiences of COVID and its impact on our families, friends and our countries. Of course not all of it was bad – I wanted to also record my still closer engagement with the natural world, my greater awareness of the environment, the kindness of friends and neighbours in the village where I live, the heroic efforts of the medical and nursing staff who cared for the thousands afflicted by the virus.

When David Hill proposed a Bach Choir commission based on Peter Johnstone’s ICU diaries I was immediately drawn to his idea of composing a work to be written during the Covid-19 pandemic about one man’s direct and intense experience of it, an out of body experience he had in the ICU, and the care he received from the nursing staff. Peter, who is Professor of the Foundations of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, was very patient and generous in allowing me to select entries that I felt could provide a satisfying musical structure, entries which could encompass the different stages of his experience, from delirium, crisis, lyrical reflection, to recovery and gratitude to his nurses. The text itself is unsentimental and factual, so I was anxious to avoid writing music that was itself too sentimental. In fact, just the opposite: some of the music is quite angry at times, reflecting Peter’s desperate situation, his fight for life, and the efforts of the medics to save him. But it is still, I hope, very expressive.

I scored Vision Of A Garden for baritone solo, chorus and string orchestra, and it lasts about eighteen minutes. The work is framed by gently overlapping choral entries in which the nurses introduce themselves, set against a pulsating, almost mechanical string accompaniment that evokes the sounds of hospital ward machines. The first choral outburst, “You are positive with the Covid-19 virus” is thematically linked to the later chorus where someone “died from the Covid-19 virus” after the dream garden sequence. A male nurse describes how he sang along to a recording of Handel’s Messiah which was played to the delirious Peter. This quote, with its harmonically blurred cadence, leads to the first garden dream music. A lyrical solo viola weaves through the baritone’s vocal line. Later, in the real visit to the garden, the viola’s material is taken up and transformed by a solo violin. These musical mirrors help to unify the work and help prepare for the choral climax that starts, “I hope you feel better soon.” In the final section, in which the baritone articulates the overwhelming feeling of love Peter felt for his nurses, their soft overlapping voices return, as if introducing themselves once more to the next patient in the ICU.

I will never forget the moment when The Bach Choir came together to rehearse one Monday evening in September after an eighteen-month enforced silence. The thrill of hearing its magnificent choral sound resonating through Westminster Cathedral Hall, and the cheer for its conductor David Hall was like a release of emotion after so many months of musical and social deprivation. It was a moment when music triumphed, when everyone there truly appreciated the value of what had been lost. After reading through the Faure Requiem the choir turned to Vision Of A Garden, with its librettist Peter Johnstone surrounded by his friends in the tenor section. The first read-through, despite its hesitations and mistakes, was overwhelmingly positive and we all could hear the shape and architecture of the work. Afterwards I spoke to Peter, who had brought his diaries to the rehearsal to show fellow members. He appeared very pleased with the singing of his and the nurses’ words for the first time and insisted that at the concert he would be singing rather than sitting in the audience. When the baritone solo and the Philharmonia Orchestra join The Bach Choir on October 24th our vision will finally come to life.

Richard Blackford

Vision Of A Garden receives its premiere on 24 October 2021 at the Royal Festival at 3pm. The Bach Choir and Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by David Hill, are joined by baritone Gareth Brynmor John, as part of a concert which include's Faure's Requiem, the premiere of Gabriel Jackson's The Promise of Dawn and music by Tallis and RVW, details from the Southbank Centre website.

Vision Of A Garden will be recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, the following week for release on Lyrita Records. On the same disc will be a new recording of Richard Blackford’s acclaimed St Francis of Assisi cantata Mirror Of Perfection, with soloists Sophie Bevan and Roderick Williams, with the Britten Sinfonia conducted by David Hill.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Highgate International Chamber Music Festival: Suk, Coleridge-Taylor, Messiaen, Kahn, Weinberg, Mendelssohn-Hensel and more

Highgate International Chamber Music Festival

The Highgate International Chamber Music Festival is returning for a weekend of live performances in St Anne's Church, Highgate West Hill, from 3 to 6 December 2021. Performers for the weekend include Alina Ibragimova, Julian Bliss, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Nicholas Daniel, Robert Cohen, Alec Frank-Gemmill, and Wu Qian plus festival directors Ashok Klouda, Natalie Klouda and Irina Botan.

Works in the programme include Josef Suk's Elegie for piano trio in D flat major, Coleridge-Taylor’s Quintet in F-sharp minor for Clarinet and Strings, Op.10, Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, Eleanor Alberga's Remember,  a programme of neglected music by composers of Jewish birth with works by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Robert Kahn.

Born into a German-Jewish family of bankers, Robert Kahn studied with Joseph Rheinberger and became friends with Johannes Brahms, whose music was a big influence on Kahn. He was forced to flee Germany in the 1939, when he was 73, and he settled in the UK and his music was almost entirely forgotten. In fact, I have a very, very distant personal connection with Kahn as a singer friend is one of his great grand children and so I have heard a number of Kahn's songs over the years. The festival will be performing his Quintet in C minor, Op. 54 for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano which dates from 1911.

A new version of Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D, Op.94 arranged for oboe, cello and piano will be performed by Nicholas Daniel, Ashok Klouda and Isata Kanneh-Mason.

The festival is also proud to resume its Young Artists scheme this season. The scheme provides one selected ensemble with coaching from leading chamber musicians, a performance in the main festival and professional quality video recording of their performance, masterclasses with world renowned musicians, and a series of coaching sessions from Matthew Sharp on developing their own workshop-concerts for primary schools. The scheme resumes in early 2022 with the festival 2019 young artists, the Salomé Quartet receiving the remainder of their coaching, masterclasses and workshop experience.

Concerts are all 60 to 75 minutes without an interview, full details from the festival website

Have you ever wanted to get the libretto for a fascinating, yet rather obscure opera and ended up trawling the net fruitlessly. Well, Francesco Zanibellato and his friends in Italy have the answer for you,

This is a website which collects rare Italian librettos. There are currently around 400 librettos, so if you are looking for Domenico Monleone's Cavalleria Rusticana (premiered in Amsterdam in 1907) then look no further. And there are editorial plans to include a further 700 librettos next year. The focus is on opera from the age of Verdi and after - first generation of Verismo composers (e.g, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano), the older generation of modernist composers (e.g., Zandonai, Alfano), and the Generazione dell’Ottanta (e.g., Pizzetti, Malipiero). But they want to include all the librettos that they can provide, and where possible there will be a synopsis and guidance notes.

Currently the website is only in Italian, but that is certainly not a limitation to the intelligent seeker after (operatic) truth. Do explore!

Birdsong on the River: Ailish Tynan, Ian Wilson and James Gilchrist at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Hark! Hark! the Lark and On the River; Ailish Tynan, Ian Wilson, Libby Burgess, James Gilchrist, Ben Goldscheider, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Festival
Hark! Hark! the Lark
and On the River; Ailish Tynan, Ian Wilson, Libby Burgess, James Gilchrist, Ben Goldscheider, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 October 2021
Birdsong in music in an imaginative programme for soprano, recorder and piano, and a last-minute change fails to disrupt the beautiful profundity of Schubert's Auf dem Strom for tenor, horn and piano

For my second visit to the 2021 Oxford Lieder Festival on Tuesday 19 October 2021, I caught a pair of concerts which imaginatively explored aspects of the festival's theme this year, Nature's Songbook. In Hark, Hark the Lark, devised by pianist Libby Burgess, soprano Ailish Tynan, recorder player Ian Wilson, and Burgess interleaved songs on themes of birds and birdsong with music for recorder inspired by the very songs themselves. In the evening, the festival's programme was somewhat overtaken by illness, and for the rush-hour concert, On the River, pianist Jocelyn Freeman, and horn player Ben Goldscheider were joined by tenor James Gilchrist (standing in at short notice for an ailing Stuart Jackson) for a programme themed around Schubert's Auf dem Strom.

Ailish Tynan, Ian Wilson and Libby Burgess' Hark, Hark the Lark at the Church of St John the Evangelist was preceded by a fascinating talk by Lucy Lapwing on Birdsong, where she took us through the wide variety of songs we might hear in an ordinary garden, and how to identify the different birds (I particularly loved the way to differentiate between a wood pigeon and a dove). The talk is free on the festival's website

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Music to challenge us and stir the soul: Animo in Sheffield

Anyone who is in Sheffield on Sunday 7 November 2021, might care catch the flute and piano duo Animo (Sarah Waycott, flute and Yanna Zissiadou, piano) in performance as part of Lynne's Live Lounge, a concert series presenting a wide variety of styles of music at the Courtyard Cafe-Bar

Animo performs 20th century and contemporary music and they describe their repertoire as "music to challenge us and stir the soul with a wide range of influences (Folk and World music, Jazz, Latin, Abstract music and Soundscapes)." Sarah and Yanna launched Animo in in October 2019, and since then they have created an ambitious five-year 'new music project' commissioning composers worldwide to write music specifically for them.

For the concert on 7 November, Animo is joined by local singer/songwriter Julian Jones.

Full details from the Facebook Event.

Boxgrove Choral Festival 2021: from Spanish Renaissance to contemporary British music

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

Boxgrove Choral Festival 2021; The Beaufort Singers, Joseph Wicks, Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock, Alexander Soares; Boxgrove Priory

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 October 2021
Young performers in an imaginative mix of repertoire from Spanish Renaissance to contemporary, in an online offering

The Beaufort Singers is a chamber choir formed at the University of Cambridge in 2016 and directed by Joseph Wicks. Named after Lady Margaret Beaufort who founded St John’s College, Cambridge, Joseph Wicks and the choir founded the Boxgrove Festival in 2018, thus giving the choir a new home at Boxgrove Priory. The 2020 festival was cancelled, whilst the 2021 festival went ahead with a small live audience and the concerts were filmed and are available on-line until mid-November. 
The membership of the choir comprises singers from across the UK embarking upon the early stages of their careers, and plans for next year's festival are already well under way with a celebration of the centenary of Frank Martin with a performance of his mass.

This year's festival features four concerts online via OnJam, two concerts from the Beaufort Singers and Joseph Wicks, music from the Spanish Renaissance with Lobo's Lamentations for Holy Saturday and Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories, and a concert of largely British music, intended as a reflection on emotions from the last 18 months with Howell's Take him Lord for cherishing, William Harris' Bring us, O Lord God, Edward Naylor's Vox Dicentis: Clama, Philip Moore's Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and music by James MacMillan, Neil Cox, Holst and Biebl. There is also an organ recital from Joseph Wicks, playing the two-manual Hill organ at Boxgrove Priory with music by Bach, Gibbons, Dupre, Hindemith and Percy Whitlock, and mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, baritone Michael Craddock and pianist Alexander Soares in songs from their Isolation Songbook [see my review of their disc].

Monday, 18 October 2021

American song weekend at the Oxford Lieder Festival with Katie Bray, Nadine Benjamin, Kitty Whately, and Neil Balfour

Sondheim: Buddy's Blues - Anna Tilbrook, Kitty Whately, Neil Balfour - Oxford Lieder Festival (Photo Oxford Lieder Festival, from live stream)
Sondheim: Buddy's Blues - Anna Tilbrook, Kitty Whately, Neil Balfour - Oxford Lieder Festival (Photo Oxford Lieder Festival, from live stream)

American Song Weekend
; Katie Bray, William Vann, Nadine Benjamin, Nicole Panizza, Kitty Whately, Neil Balfour, Anna Tilbrook; Oxford Lieder Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16-17 October 2021
From Copland to contemporary song, from Weill to Sondheim, a wonderful weekend of American song at Oxford Lieder Festival

The Oxford Lieder Festival's middle weekend this year (16 & 17 October 2021) was devoted to American song, and we took the opportunity to catch three concerts, with mezzo-soprano Katie Bray and pianist William Vann in Kurt Weill, soprano Nadine Benjamin and pianist Nicole Panizza in Aaron Copland, Julian Philips, André Previn and Juliana Hall, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, bass-baritone Neil Balfour and pianist Anna Tilbrook in Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rogers, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, William Bolcom and Margaret Bonds.

Our weekend began late on Saturday 16 October at the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building which is at St Hilda's College (looking striking with its new main building) for Katie Bray and William Vann's In Search of Youkali, a programme exploring the songs of Kurt Weill, beginning in Germany with Weill's highly political theatre work with Bertolt Brecht, pausing in France and ending in the USA where Weill became a US citizen and wrote for Broadway. The evening was themed around Weill's song Youkali setting the French of Roger Fernay about a magical land of 'happiness and pleasure' which doesn't exist. We began with Bray humming the song's theme and its melody was a thread through the programme to the full version of the song a the end. An apt metaphor for Weill's wandering life.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Thrilling virtuosity and engaging personality in Arias for Ballino, tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado's exploration of rare 18th-century repertoire with Opera Settecento at London Handel Festival

Jorge Navarro Colorado
Jorge Navarro Colorado (Photo Jan Rebuschat)
Pen and brown ink drawing of Annibale Pio Fabri (‘Ballino’) c.1720-30 by Anton Maria Zanetti the Elder (courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust)

Arias for Ballino
- Handel, Mancini, Vivaldi, Corselli, Caldara, Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Scarlatti; Jorge Navarro Colorado, Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte; London Handel Festival at St George's Hannover Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 October 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
An exploration of arias written for the Italian tenor known as Ballino, who sang for two seasons in London and dazzled Europe with his virtuosity

Annibale Pio Fabri, known as 'Ballino', is not the best-known name amongst the singers who worked for Handel, yet on hearing him for the first time in 1729, Mrs Pendarves wrote described his voice as "sweet, clear and firm ... he sings like a gentleman, without making faces, and his manner is particularly agreeable; he is the greatest master of musick that ever sang upon the stage". For his two seasons in London, Handel both wrote him new roles and adapted existing ones, but Fabri also worked with a wide variety of European composers. There was a chance to explore Fabri and the music written for him in Arias for Ballino, Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte's concert at the London Handel Festival at St George's Hannover Square on Friday 15 October. They were joined by tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado for arias from Handel's Scipione and Partenope, Mancini's Trajano, Vivaldi's L'Incoronazione di Dario, Corselli's Farnace, Caldara's Adriano in Siria, and Alessandro Scarlatti's Marco Attilio Regolo, plus instrumental music by Handel, Vivaldi and Francesco Scarlatti.

Some 80 minutes of rare Baroque arias might sound somewhat forbidding (three of the arias, including those from Handel's Scipione, were first performances in modern times) but with performances so wonderfully engaged and engaging we were entranced. This seems to be very much a passion project for tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado, he described in the programme how singing his first two complete Handel operas (Lotario in Göttingen, and Partenope in Iford) he discovered that both roles fitted him well and that both were written for Fabri, which impelled him to go in search of other arias written for the tenor. And what music it was, clearly Fabri was rather keen on insanely long passages of very fast notes, and even the more lyrical arias were quite busy (in the manner of Johann Adolph Hasse). By the end of the evening, we had a clear idea of Fabri's tenorial style, but this was far more than an academic exercise. 

Freedom and balance: I chat to composer Noah Max whose work is in the Clements Prize for Composers at Conway Hall

Noah Max conducting the Echo ensemble (Photo Liz Isles, Dec 2020.)
Noah Max conducting the Echo Ensemble (Photo Liz Isles, Dec 2020.)

The Conway Hall has revived the Clements Prize for Composers as a way of supporting young musicians and new music. The final takes place on Sunday 17 October 2021 where seven pieces will be performed by members of the Piatti Quartet. Included in the list is Sojourn by Noah Max (written in 2017), and earlier this week I met up with Noah to chat about composition, conducting, playing the cello, painting and more. [Update: Sojourn won first prize in the competition, read more in Bernard Hughes' article on The Arts Desk]

If you look at Noah's website there seems to be not one but several Noah's, conductor, founder of the Echo Ensemble, composer, artist and more, and I was intrigued to find out which was the real Noah, how did he want to be remembered? Noah's path has been somewhat varied, he concentrated on the cello whilst he was at the Purcell School, going on to develop as a conductor and as a composer, but it is only recently that he has come to realise that he is a composer foremost. Whilst this is, to some extent, a more ephemeral career he has come to realise that he needs to create something from scratch. Music is his first language, he grew up with music and he enjoys the way composing moves from a solo activity, when writing the music, to being far more collaborative when it comes to working on the new work with performers. By contrast, his painting is a purely solo activity, no-one else is involved, and he sees it as an outlet for the immediate expulsion of emotions.

Noah Max at Wigmore Hall (Photo Quentin Poole, Dec 2019)
Noah Max and Endymion at Wigmore Hall (Photo Quentin Poole, Dec 2019)

Conducting also features his love of collaboration, but he also refers to it as an unusual job adding that he cannot understand why anyone would want to do it! And of course, there is also the philosophical question, what exactly does it mean to be a conductor? Yet, when there are sufficient musicians in a room it is evident that a conductor is needed. 

He sees music as abstract and strange, it deals in emotions not ideas and his hope is that his music will endure, and his aim as a composer is to 'tell the truth'. Much of Western classical music is based around the tension between consonance and dissonance, and he sees this as an abstraction of the same conflict in real life. And with any work of art, he feels that you know you have created something valuable when it means something to someone else.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Interpreter and creator: Uriel Pascucci performs Beethoven, Mussorgsky and his own composition on his latest disc

The idea of the composer / creator is an old one and whilst the concept has a great deal of resonance today with many young contemporary composers, the role of composer / pianist is one which still holds an aura of the past, from Liszt through Grainger to more recent names such as Ronald Stevenson. 

The young Argentinian pianist and composer, Uriel Pascucci is one who combines a pianistic career with that of composer, performing both his own and other composers' music. With his latest album on iMD-Classics, Pascucci wants to bring back an approach of interpreter and creator, and the disc combines Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 30 in E major and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with his own Prelude, Tango and Fugue. [Link tree]

If you are interested in sampling Pascucci's pianistic talents further, then I can recommend his YouTube video of him performing his own transcription of Astor Piazzolla's Invierno Porteño.

Memorials to the unimaginable: Adam Swayne's 9/11:20

9/11:20 - Karen Walwyn, Henry Cowell, Kevin Malone, Scott Joplin, David Del Tredici; Coviello Contemporary

- Karen Walwyn, Henry Cowell, Kevin Malone, Scott Joplin, David Del Tredici; Coviello Contemporary

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 October 2021
Pianist Adam Swayne's remarkable project poses the question, in what ways can music commemorate disaster?

Pianist Adam Swayne's album 9/11:20 on Coviello Contemporary is subtitled 'Memorials on the twentieth anniversary of September 11th' and includes music by Karen Walwyn, Henry Cowell, Kevin Malone, and David Del Tredici which reflects on the events of that day and on its aftermath. Some of the music was written specifically for this purpose, notably Karen Walwyn's Reflections on 9/11, Kevin Malone's Sudden Memorials (commissioned by Swayne specifically for this project) and David Del Tredici's Missing Towers. To these Swayne adds works by Henry Cowell and Scott Joplin written a hundred years earlier.

Adam Swayne and Kevin Malone at the Royal Northern College of Music (Photo Aaron Holloway-Nahum)
Adam Swayne and Kevin Malone at the Royal Northern College of Music (Photo Aaron Holloway-Nahum)

Karen Walwyn's Reflections on 9/11 from 2008, is a seven-movement work which looks at aspects of 9/11 but not the attack itself. We hear two movements from Reflections on 9/11, 'Anguish' (the third movement) is dramatic, with flowing, unsettled textures and edgy harmonies, and Ravel's piano music (notably a work like Ondine) comes to mind. 'Burial' is completely different, almost on a ground bass, the work unfolds in a more formal manner a melody evolving over the ever moving bass.

A superb tribute to both Handel and Milton: the expansive original 1743 version of Samson at London Handel Festival

Catherine (Kitty) Clive by Willem Verelst 1740
Catherine (Kitty) Clive, the first Dalila
by Willem Verelst 1740

Handel Samson; Stuart Jackson, Paula Murrihy, Sophie Bevan, Matthew Brook, David Shipley, The English Concert, Harry Bicket; London Handel Festival at St George's Hanover Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 October 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Stuart Jackson as a moving and finely sung Samson in this rare outing for Handel's expansive 1743 version of his oratorio

Handel's dramatic talents as a composer ran to the expansive, in a way that Handel the promoter found tricky so that many of his works were trimmed and edited for later performances. His oratorio Samson is a case in point, after the first performance on 18 February 1743, cuts were being made and in each revival of the work, there were changes.

The London Handel Festival gave us a rare chance to hear the complete 1743 version of Handel's Samson on Thursday 13 October 2021. At St George's Hanover Square, Harry Bicket conducted the English Concert with Stuart Jackson as Samson, Sophie Bevan as Dalila, Paula Murrihy as Micah, Matthew Brook as Manoah, David Shipley as Harapha plus Rachel Redmond and Gwilym Bowen as the various Israelites and Philistines. There was no separate chorus, just three ripieno singers who joined with the soloists to perform the choruses, a practice that Handel seems to have done when he did not have a chorus available.

John Beard by John Faber Jr, after John Michael Williams 1740 (© National Portrait Gallery)
John Beard, the first Samson
by John Faber Jr, after John Michael Williams 1749
(© National Portrait Gallery)

Handel's Samson is one of his few oratorios, Messiah apart, that kept its reputation over the centuries. In part, this is due to the great admiration for Milton's poetry, though it has to be admitted that Newburgh Hamilton's libretto raids a remarkable number of other Miltonic sources for its text, not just the play Samson Agonistes. But it is only with the revival of interest in Handel's dramatic oratorios since the 1950s that we can place Samson in context and realise that, compared to Belshazzar and Saul, this is a remarkably undramatic piece. Handel, Milton, and Hamilton have created a theatre of the mind; Milton's original play was designed for a moral purpose and to be read privately, and in turning it into an oratorio something of this comes over. Nothing much happens, instead thanks to his series of interactions with his friend Micah, his father, his wife Dalila, and the Philistines' champion Harapha, we gain access to Samson's mind and thought processes. And thanks to the original concept of Milton's play, Samson is on stage throughout. Something almost unheard of in 18th-century drama.

Something of the context for this must be owing to the remarkable tenor who created Samson, John Beard. A product of the Chapel Royal who had started working for Handel in his late teens, Beard's 'day job' was as a singer on the London stage, singing songs, but much of his training was with Handel and that the composer wrote such part as Samson for him is a testament to Beard's dramatic talent. It seems that Beard had a robust, useful voice and up until Handel's death Beard would continue to sing the more lyric roles alongside the dramatic ones such as Samson and Jephtha (both of which were written for him). What the tenor clearly had was the ability to convey the dramatic moment, and stamina. In 18th-century terms, the role of Samson is remarkable for its size, and for the fact that it is a tenor at all. Outside French tragedie lyrique, operatic tenors tended to play bit parts.

Handel's casting in Samson was similarly imaginative for the role of Dalila, she was sung by Kitty Clive who was a musical comedy actress who had sung in Thomas Arne's Alfred. First night reports suggest that she had but a thread of a voice yet what she did with the words was ravishing; clearly Handel was more interested in dramatic truth, the combination of word and music, than sheer vocal pyrotechnics.

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