Thursday, 6 May 2021

One of Prokofiev's darkest and most brooding works is at the centrepiece of Yulia Chaplina's Second Prokofiev Festival

2nd Prokofiev Festival
The pianist Yulia Chaplina is returning to the chamber music of Prokofiev with her 2nd London Prokofiev Festival which runs from 25-28 May 2021. The centrepiece of the festival is a concert Chaplina and violinist Thomas Gould are giving at Kings Place. Entitled Beyond the Iron Curtain (26/5/2021), it features music by three interlinked composers, Prokofiev and his great contemporary Shostakovich and Shostakovich's friend and colleague, Weinberg.  The programme places Prokofiev's powerful Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80, one of his darkest and most brooding pieces dating from 1938 to 1946, alongside music by Weinberg plus Chaplina's own arrangements of music by Shostakovich.

The previous day (25/5/2021), Chaplina is joined by cellist Bartholemew LaFollette at Pushkin House in Bloomsbury for a programme which is centred on Prokofiev's Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 119, written in 1949 for Mstislav Rostropovich at a time when Prokofiev's music was banned and there was no prospect of a performance (Rostropovich in fact premiered it in Moscow in 1950), alongside music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and the Soviet Armenian composer Arno Babadjainan (1921-1983).

The festival also includes a children's concert, a young artists concert and an amateurs concert.

Full details from Yulia Chaplina's website.

Vaughan Williams' folk songs; Albion Records continues its exploration with a second volume including 15 world premiere recordings

Vaughan Williams Folk Song Arrangements, volume 2; Mary Bevan, Nicky Spence,

Vaughan Williams Folk Song Arrangements, volume 2; Mary Bevan, Nicky Spence, Roderick Williams, William Vann; Albion Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 May 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The second volume of Albion's exploration of RVW's folk-song arrangements reveals some delightful gems

Albion Records, the recording arm of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, is exploring RVW's folk-song arrangements for voice(s) and piano in an ambitious four disc project. This will cover all of RVW's 80 arrangements of which 57 will be world premiere recordings. For this second disc in the set, on Albion Records, Mary Bevan (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Thomas Gould (violin) and William Vann (piano), present us with folk songs collected in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, two songs with violin, and a miscellany of other English folk song.

RVW created these arrangements for performance, so that singers could include the music in recitals. These are arrangements which deliberately move the folk song into the recital hall, yet RVW's artful piano accompaniments draw far less attention to themselves than those of Britten in his folk-song arrangements. And having listened to this beautifully performed recital, I wonder yet again why these arrangements are not better known. RVW's arrangements often had a practical side to them, he would make them as part of publishing projects which aimed to encourage folk-singing in schools, and the songs seem to have had a life not in the professional recital hall but a competitive festivals and other amateur music making. Yet RVW's piano parts are more imaginative than functional. With the release of these recordings, we must hope that the printed music is similarly easily available to encourage singers to explore.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Gothic Opera returns with Bluebeard's Castle

Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle - Gothic Opera

Gothic Opera, co-founders Alice Usher, Charlotte Osborn and Béatrice de Larragoïti, made its debut in 2019 with a production of Marschner's Der Vampyr, a suitably gothic starting point. The company is returning to the stage in July 2021 with a very different type of gothic tale, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle in a multi-disciplinary production at Porchester Hall. The production will combine sound design, digital animation and dance.

The company will be working with director Julia Mintzer and choreographer Carmine de Amicis, with mezzo-soprano Alexandra Long and bass-baritone Simon Wilding, conducted by Thomas Payne. The performance will use a new chamber orchestration by Leon Haxby.

With Der Vampyr, the company took an irreverent and feminist approach, retelling a nineteenth century opera through the contemporary lens of consent and agency. With Bluebeard's Castle they are taking a similarly active approach. Leon Haxby's orchestration extracts vocal lines for three female singers from the original music, creating roles for Bluebeard's former wives and thus bringing them to the fore.

Julia Mintzer explains: “This Bluebeard is about more than two people and their relationship. It's about tearing open big questions of belief systems: what we're willing to invest in them, what it takes to keep them going, and what it takes to make us abandon them.”

Full details from the Gothic Opera website.

Beethoven 251: celebrating both Beethoven's symphonies and London's talented young musicians

Palais Lobkowitz (on the left) in Vienna; painting by Bernado Bellotto, about 1760
Palais Lobkowitz (on the left) in Vienna, location of the first private performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3
painting by Bernado Bellotto, about 1760

When I read about this concert series, my first thought was what a brilliant idea. Across a week (28 June to 2 July), James Henshaw and the Outcry Ensemble are presenting Beethoven 251: Festival of Symphonies, performing Beethoven's first eight symphonies, two each evening at St John's Waterloo.

The project is as much about the musicians as it is about Beethoven and his music. The Outcry Ensemble is made up of young professionals who will be returning to work after, for many, a year of no live music, and every pound from ticket sales will go directly towards the musicians’ fees. As all of the musicians who play for the ensemble are self-employed, this project wants to kickstart the return to live music-making and look forward to a recovery of London’s musical ecosystem, which is so reliant on the freelance workforce.

Each concert will be preceded by an informal talk between James Henshaw and an invited guest, discussing the pairings, as well as the overall journey of the symphony cycle. The Outcry Ensemble hopes to finish the cycle with the seminal ninth symphony in a special community event in late summer. 

Full details from the festival website.

Hymns of Kassiani: Cappella Romana explores the music of the earliest known female composer

The Hymns of Kassiani; Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas; Cappella Records
The Hymns of Kassiani
; Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas; Cappella Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 May 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Rediscovering the voice of one of the earliest female composers, writing for the Byzantine Church in the ninth century

Founded by Alexander Lingas in 1991, the vocal ensemble Cappella Romana specialises in combining scholarship with performance, exploring the musical traditions of the Christian East and West, and they have become well-known for their performances of Byzantine and Orthodox chant. On this new disc, Hymns of Kassiani on Cappella Records, Cappella Romana and Alexander Lingas explore the music of the ninth century composer Kassia (Kassiani), the earliest known female composer, with music for Christmas and for Holy Week (Orthodox Easter this year was 2 May 2021).

Kassia's name is not unknown, the Hymn of Kassiani is included in the Eastern Orthodox Church's rite for morning prayer on Holy Wednesday. This hymn casts the repentance of the sinful woman annointing Jesus' feet from the Gospel of St Luke as a powerful first-person drama. But the aim of this new disc is to go beyond the Hymn of Kassiani and to explore her rarely performed hymns, music which is not part of the regular modern liturgy.

So who was Kassia?

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

through the noise

Underbelly Hoxton, venue for the first two noisenights
Underbelly Hoxton, venue for the first two noisenights

through the noise is a new crowdfunding platform (founder and artistic director Jack Bazalgette) aimed specifically at live classical events. The idea is that members of the public are invited to become ‘backers’ in return for tickets to their chosen event, and priority booking for future events. Each event is confirmed when it achieves sufficient backing, ensuring that only concerts that are popular with audiences go ahead.

The platform is going to be trialled with a new classical performance series, noisenights. Each evening will feature two identical 45-60 minute classical sets; an early evening rush-hour performance and a late show which is followed by live jazz, funk and afrobeat acts, accompanied by a late-licensed bar. Tickets to the late set include access for the rest of the night.

The first two noisenights are at Underbelly Hoxton. On 9 July 2021, cellist Laura van der Heijden and violinist Max Baillie perform Kodaly’s duo alongside Bach, Bartok and their own arrangements of folk music, then on 8 August 2021, the Chineke! Duo (Sarah Daramy-Williams, violin and Natalia Senior-Brown, viola) performs music by Errollyn Wallen, Joseph Bologne, Schubert, Mozart and Martinů.

Full information from their website.

Chausson's Le roi Arthus receives its first American staging as part of Bard Summerscape

Henri Albers in the title role of Chausson's Le Roi Arthus in 1903
Henri Albers in the title role of Chausson's Le roi Arthus in 1903

The spectre of Richard Wagner loomed large over late 19th-century French music, whether loved or hated, he certainly was not ignored. And in the opera house, few composers managed to find a successful way to acknowledge his influence and his revolutionary ideas whilst not slipping into simple imitation. 

Ernest Chausson studied with both Jules Massenet and Cesar Franck, and in the 1880s made the pilgrimage to Bayreuth to hear Wagner's operas. From 1886 to 1896, Chausson worked on his own Wagnerian epic, Le Roi Arthus which manages to combine the influences of Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal with that of Chausson's friend and mentor, Cesar Franck.

The music of the opera is luxuriantly gorgeous, though Chausson would probably have been better served by using an experienced librettist rather than writing the text himself. Unfortunately, the opera got a bad start in the world, it languished after Chausson's sudden death in 1899 and was not premiered until 1903 (at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels). By this time, Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande had debuted, showing French composers a radically different response to Wagnerisme, and making Chausson's epic seem old-fashioned. Though, ironically Debussy and Chausson were friends and Debussy gave the older composer advice about Le roi Arthus.

Armin Jordan gave us a ground-breaking recording of the work in 1986, and the work has done moderately well on disc. There have been occasional stagings in Nancy, and Bonn and in 2015 the work finally made its way to Paris (though The Guardian's critic was not particularly thrilled with the production). Now the work is finally getting its first fully staged American presentation, when Bard Summerscape perform the work this Summer as part of the 31st Bard Music Festival, Nadia Boulanger and her world.

Chausson's Le roi Arthus will be directed by Louisa Proske with Norman Garrett in the title role, plus Sasha Cooke as Guinevere and conducted by Leon Botstein. Botstein has history with the work, he conducted it with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (and on a 2005 recording) and gave a concert performance at the Lincoln Center in 2001. 

The opera is being staged as part of a festival which will be presenting the music of Nadia and Lili Boulanger alongside that of their friends, colleagues and teachers, as well as looking at Nadia Boulanger's students. Altogether a fascinating mix, but it is the chance to experience Chausson's Le roi Arthus on stage that will attract many people.

Full details from the festival website.

A new festival aims to provide much needed cultural nourishment in High Barnet

High Barnet Chamber Music Festival

A new festival in North London, the High Barnet Chamber Music Festival, wants to provide Barnet with much-needed cultural nourishment after the last year. Conductor Joshua Ballance is the artistic director and the festival's first outing presents three chamber music concerts during July at Church of St John the Baptist, High Barnet (EN5 4BW) all featuring talented early-career musicians in programmes which provide a lively mix of well-known and lesser known works including music by William Grant Still, Florence Price, Johanna Müller-Hermann and Lili Boulanger alongside Schubert, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Mahler and Schoenberg.

Violinist Charlie Lovell-Jones kicks things off on 17 July 2021 with a programme of music for violin and piano by Schubert, Saint-Saëns, William Grant Still and Florence Price. Then on 22 July, Joshua Ballance's ensemble, Mad Song, are joined by mezzo-soprano Anita Monserrat for a programme of chamber adaptations of larger works; Webern's arrangement of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 is preceded by Ballance's own arrangements of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and five songs by the Austrian composer and pupil of Alexander von Zemlinsky, Johanna Müller-Hermann (1878-1941). The festival ends on 24 July with the Mithras Trio in piano trios by Schumann, Schubert and Lili Boulanger.

Full details from the festival website.

The Sultan, the Siege of Rhodes, the Secretary to the Navy Board and his lover

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls oil on canvas, 1666 NPG 211 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Samuel Pepys by John Hayls
oil on canvas, 1666 - NPG 211 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Music plays quite a striking role in Samuel Pepys' diary and the work has plenty of Pepys's tantalising comments about contemporary musicians. In this guest posting, Jacky Collis Harvey, author of Walking Pepys's London takes a more detailed look at one of Samuel Pepys's own compositions and its links to his mistress Elizabeth Knepp.

In 1666 the diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife Elizabeth sat to the fashionable artist John Hayls in his studio in Southampton St, Bloomsbury. Elizabeth chose to be depicted en déshabillé as a sexy martyred female saint, which says all one need to know, I think, about her feelings on the chronically parlous state of her marriage; while Pepys had himself depicted in an ‘Indian gown’ which he seems to have hired for the purpose, a loose silk robe (possibly a kimono) the colour of English Breakfast tea. At Hayls’s request he posed turned from right to left and looking back at us over his shoulder. As he complained to his Diary, ‘I…  do almost break my neck looking over my shoulder to make the posture for him to work by.’ All in all, the completion of the portraits to Pepys’s satisfaction (which, this being Pepys, included a good deal of him telling the artist how to do his job) took from February to May of that year. When they were done, Pepys paid Hayls £22 and 10 shillings for the pair, bore them proudly home in his carriage, and hung them that very day in his house behind the Navy Office in Seething Lane. We may assume they were hung with Elizabeth on the left, and Samuel, looking back at us over his shoulder to the right, with the piece of music that had apparently been absorbing his attention before we walked in on him there in his left hand. The piece is Pepys’s own setting for ‘Beauty Retire’, from William Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes – Part II, Act 4.

Elizabeth Pepys by James Thomson (Thompson), after John Hayls stipple engraving, published January 1828 - NPG D5507 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Elizabeth Pepys by James Thomson , after John Hayls
stipple engraving, published January 1828 - NPG D5507
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Music was one of the great passions of Pepys’s life. ‘The thing of the world that I do love most,’ he called it, in July of that same year - in an argument with Elizabeth, in fact, which must have pleased her, not. This song from The Siege of Rhodes was certainly not his only composition, but it might have been one of his first, and its presence in his portrait in this, his 33rd year, with his personal fortune steadily increasing and his reputation likewise, attests to his pride in it; and the compliments he received upon it from his friends and fellow music-lovers are recorded in the Diary with unfeigned pleasure. Even better, from our point of view, we have the whole of Pepys’s setting for the song, preserved in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. You can find it today on Spotify. How that would have amazed him!

The song is not a major piece, by any means. A little under a minute long, it records Solyman’s (Suleiman the Magnificent’s) thoughts after a disagreement with his wife Roxolana. ‘I break the hearts/of half the world, and she breaks mine,’ he muses, sadly.  It’s much more recitative than song, but then so is most of The Siege of Rhodes – plays being banned under the Protectorate, setting the entire drama to music, which it seems it took the efforts of five different composers to do [the vocal music by Henry Lawes, Matthew Locke, and Captain Henry Cooke, and the instrumental music by Charles Coleman and George Hudson], was the only way to get its performance past the authorities when it was first staged at Davenant’s home in 1656. The ‘first English opera’, as it has been called, is a wreath that has dropped onto The Siege’s head entirely by accident. Part II followed the year after; Pepys was at a performance of it in July 1661, at the Duke of York’s playhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

There is a deal of musical mopping and mowing in Pepys’s setting of the Sultan’s words, strong emphases, swoops and falls, a man shaking his head over his romantic fate: ‘At first I thought her by our prophet sent… and now, she is become my punishment,’ Solyman tells us, reminding us that Samuel and Elizabeth were also a love-match. And we know music and love were twined one about the other in Pepys’s psyche, another reason why The Siege of Rhodes so spoke to him (along, perhaps, with an appealing identification with the hard-pressed Sultan). Pepys was a man for whom music was limbic. For example, his only means of describing the effect a melody from Decker and Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr had on him was to compare it to the intoxication of his feelings for Elizabeth: ‘it ravished me,’ he famously declared, it ‘...did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.’ Music for Samuel was indeed the food of love. Yet for all his passion for Elizabeth, which waxed and waned but never died, and despite her dutiful attendance at singing and music lessons, carrying a tune did not come easily to her - certainly not as easily it did to one of her main rivals for her husband’s affections at this point, the actress Elizabeth Knepp.

A view of Rhodes, designed by Inigo Jones' pupil John Webb, to be painted on a backshutter for the first performance of Davenant's opera The Siege of Rhodes "in recitative music" in May 1656, at Rutland House
A view of Rhodes, designed by Inigo Jones' pupil John Webb, to be painted on a backshutter
for the first performance of Davenant's The Siege of Rhodes in May 1656, at Rutland House


It is a great shame we don’t have a portrait of Mrs Knepp. Pepys’s earliest mention of her in December 1665 characterises her as ‘pretty enough’, but also as ‘the most excellent, mad-humoured thing, and sings the noblest that ever I heard in my life.’ Curiously enough, the first mention of Knepp, on 6 December 1665, is on the same day as first mention of ‘a song of Solyman’s words to Roxalana,’ upon which Pepys had spent his afternoon. On his 33rd birthday, 23rd February 1666, he and Knepp (‘this baggage’ he calls her, fondly) make an evening of it, with him teaching her his song ‘which she makes go most rarely’. Even better, by November of that year, Knepp has become an advocate for it, perhaps even performing it herself, which leads me to suspect that voice of hers was a contralto. But what of Elizabeth? Is she to be found in the song as Samuel’s Roxolana? Did he see Knepp and the many other women in his life as a sort of harem, and fantasise (and indeed rationalise) himself in that exotic gown of Indian silk, as their sultan? Impossible to know – but then no one person hears the same thing in a piece of music as another, any more than two people view the same portrait, take the same walk, even together, or, for that matter, are partners in the same marriage. It’s why we keep listening still.

Jacky Colliss Harvey’s Walking Pepys’s London is published by Haus Publishing Ltd.

Notes: 

  • Samuel Pepys's Diary is available on-line and is searchable with a valuable Encyclopedia, https://www.pepysdiary.com/ 
  • For Pepys's comments on contemporary musicians, try this one about a new work by the Master of the King's Music, Louis Grabu [Grebus]: 'to White Hall, and there in the Boarded-gallery did hear the musick with which the King is presented this night by Monsieur Grebus, the master of his musick; both instrumentall — I think twenty-four violins — and vocall; an English song upon Peace. But, God forgive me! I never was so little pleased with a concert of musick in my life. The manner of setting of words and repeating them out of order, and that with a number of voices, makes me sick, the whole design of vocall musick being lost by it.', Tuesday 1 October 1667, Samuel Pepys's Diary
  • John Hayls' portrait of Elizabeth Pepys does not seem to surivive, it was apparently destroyed during the 19th century and is known only from engravings
  • Part 1 of The Siege of Rhodes was first performed in a small private theatre constructed at William Davenant's home, Rutland House, in 1656. Special permission had to be obtained from the Puritan government of Oliver Cromwell, as dramatic performances were outlawed and all public theatres closed. Davenant managed to obtain this by calling the production "recitative music", music being still permissible within the law. When published in 1656, it was under the equivocating title The siege of Rhodes made a representation by the art of prospective in scenes, and the story sung in recitative musick, at the back part of Rutland-House in the upper end of Aldersgate-Street, London. The 1659 reprinting of the text gives the location at the Cock-pit in Drury Lane, a well-known theatre frequented by Samuel Pepys after the Restoration. Pepys himself later read the text and commented in his Diary that it was "certainly (the more I read it the more I think so) the best poem that ever was wrote."


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Elsewhere on this blog
  • Songs for a Broken World: American composer David Chesky discusses the way contemporary and historical issues intersect in his new album  - guest posting
  • The perfect lockdown piano concerto: pianist Mark Bebbington on recording Poulenc's Aubade and Le Bal masqué for Resonus Classics - interview
  • Bach's Goldberg Variations in a winning new arrangement for violin, guitar and cello - record review
  • Science Fiction, AI, music and collaborative creation: the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra  - record review
  • Wild Blue Yonder: new disc of chamber music by Eleanor Alberga - record review
  • Spring song continues: Leeds Lieder with Fleur Barron, Gerald Finley, Benson Wilson, Sarah Connolly and many more - concert review
  • A new film inspired by George Orwell's 1984 has Mihkel Kerem's powerful new orchestral score at its heart  - film review
  • The balance between a perfect art form & giving people what they want: conductor George Jackson chats about Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro with which he opens Opera Holland Park's 2021 season - interview
  • Thoughtful and imaginative: The Children's Hour sees baritone Gareth Brymor John and pianist William Vann taking a very adult view of childhood  - record review
  • Rediscovered: British Clarinet Concertos by Susan Spain-Dunk, Elizabeth Maconchy, Rudolph Dolmetsch, Peter Wishart from Peter Cigleris, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ben Palmer - record review
  • A disc to enjoy: William Towers and Armonico Consort in Handelian Pyrotechnics  - record review
  • Flight at the museum: Seattle Opera's new film imaginatively re-locates Jonathan Dove's opera - opera review
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Monday, 3 May 2021

Songs for a Broken World: American composer David Chesky discusses the way contemporary and historical issues intersect in his new album

David Chesky: Songs for a Broken World

The American composer David Chesky has releasing a new album Songs for a Broken World on his own label, Chesky Records. The album is a sincere statement of worries the composer feels necessary to share with the world, in which all of us live and die. It features performances from Ute Lemper, J'Nai Bridges, Pedro R Diaz, Milan Milasavljevic and the Orchestra & Choir of the 21st Century in four of Chesky's works, Remembrance for the Victims of the Vietnam War, For Our Own, Sacred Child of Aleppo and The White Rose Trilogy. This last is named for the non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany led by a group of students from the University of Munich, including Sophie Scholl whose centenary is this year.

In this guest posting David Chesky shares some of his thoughs on why he has written the music:

Songs for a Broken World, why ? Because we are witness to the breakdown of this world in my humble opinion. And I do hope it is temporary, and I hope we can learn from this and correct our course.

With the threat that emerged with the re-election of Donald Trump—whose administration poisoned American political culture, trampled over democratic norms, and miserably failed the test posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of the increasing violence of Trump’s followers, I looked to the resistance group The White Rose, whose humanism led its members to risk their lives fighting the National Socialist regime. We need a White Rose today. We need someone with the strength of Sophie Scholl.

1984, Easter Passions, Leeds & Manchester Lieder, Flight in Seattle

April on Planet Hugill: 1984, Easter Passions, Leeds & Manchester Lieder, Flight in Seattle

We've just sent out our monthly newsletter, April on Planet Hugill: 1984, Easter Passions, Leeds & Manchester Lieder, Flight in Seattle. If you don't already receive it, this monthly newsletter is a great way to catch up with reviews, articles, interviews and features that you might have missed on Planet Hugill in the last month. 

April's record reviews included neglected 20th century music from rare Richard Strauss and the piano music of Florence Price to English clarinet concertos and The Turkish Five, and we also celebrate contemporary composers from Jamaica, Australia and the Faroe Islands. And we interviewed tenor Ilker Arcayürek on the art of the song recital, pianist Elan Sicroff on the music of Thomas de Hartmann, Toms Ostrovskis on the challenges of creating the Riga Jurmala Academy during lockdown, and conductor George Jackson on Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro with which he opens this year's Opera Holland Park season.

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Sunday, 2 May 2021

A Life On-Line: Stile Antico in Robert Ramsay, Alexandra Dariescu & London Philharmonic in Ravel, Opera North in Gluck

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice - Paula Murrihy, Opera North (Photo Justin Slee)
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice - Paula Murrihy, Opera North (Photo Justin Slee)

This week we caught Stile Antico exploring the music associated with the short life of Henry, Prince of Wales (eldest son of King James 1 & VI), a sparkling programme of French orchestral music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra including pianist Alexandra Dariescu on terrific form, and a powerful account of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice in Leeds. We also caught the on-line press launch of Opera Rara's 2021/22 season with Donizetti, Mercadante and more to look forward to (there'll be an article on the blog in due course).

Saturday, 1 May 2021

The perfect lockdown piano concerto: pianist Mark Bebbington on recording Poulenc's 'Aubade' and 'Le Bal masqué' for Resonus Classics

Mark Bebbington at 2019 recording session for Resonus Classics (Photo Nick Rutter)
Mark Bebbington at 2019 recording session for Resonus Classics' first Poulenc disc (Photo Nick Rutter)

One of the most imaginative concerts that I came across last Autumn, with ensembles allowed to perform yet restricted as to numbers, was one at St John's Smith Square where Jan Latham Koenig conducted members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) with pianist Mark Bebbington and baritone Roderick Williams in Poulenc's Aubade and Le Bal masqué, two works which are woefully under-represented both on the concert platform and on disc [see my review]. Mark Bebbington, Jan Latham Koenig and the RPO have already given us a fascinating disc of Poulenc's music on Resonus Classics which combined the piano version of the Concert champêtre with the Piano Concerto and chamber music [see my review], and now a second Poulenc disc has just been issued by the same team. The new disc combines Poulenc's Aubade and Le Bal masqué with the Sextet and the late Flute Sonata. These two Poulenc discs are the first fruits of a planned French music series from Mark Bebbington and Resonus Classics. I spoke to Mark via Zoom to chat more about the music of Poulenc and other plans.

Mark Bebbington
Mark Bebbington
When Mark and Adam Binks, of Resonus Classics, were planning a new French music series they decided that they did not want it to begin by covering well-trodden ground with music by Ravel and Debussy. So the spotlight first falls on Francis Poulenc whom Mark sees as a great but still rather neglected composer, whose piano music is wonderful. There is a third Poulenc disc in the planning, but the series will come to the music of Ravel and Debussy.

Mark sees the repertoire for the first two Poulenc discs with the combination of piano concertante works and chamber music as being a good starting point, and with the new disc, neither ensemble work is strictly orchestral. He laughingly describes Aubade as the perfect lockdown piano concerto, requiring as it does just 16 instrumentalists which plus soloist and conductor made perfect numbers for a socially distanced concert at St John's Smith Square. Having come up with Aubade, adding Le Bal masqué and the Sextet made a good programme, but more importantly one that it was possible to record in a socially distanced manner. This meant that Autumn 2020 for Mark is indelibly associated with these works when the rest of the musical world was not able to do much.

One of the reasons why Aubade is not well known is that its combination of instruments (a mix of strings and wind but no violins) makes the work difficult for promoters to programme. It was commissioned in 1929, as a ballet score to be performed out of doors in Paris with the dance choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska (1891-1972). This unusual instrumental layout leads to something of a vicious circle, promoters and orchestras are unwilling to take a box office risk on an unknown work, so the work remains unknown to the public, and so on. Mark also points out that Poulenc's concertante piano works often do not end with the sort of pianistic razzle-dazzle that can be popular in big concertos. On his previous disc, Mark played the Piano Concerto which dates from 1949 but which wasn't the virtuoso showcase at its Boston, USA premiere that was expected. And for all their exuberance works like Aubade are almost private works. The immediacy of Aubade is not always felt in the concert hall, it lacks any musical display for its own sake and the ending is positively downbeat as the final movement is almost mystical. Mark feels that Aubade is a work that really needs getting to know.  

Friday, 30 April 2021

Questionnaire

Questionnaire is an intriguing new piece for voice and guitar ensemble by David Lang, and the Italian guitarist Sergio Sorrentino has just recorded a new version of the piece in which he plays all of the guitar parts. In Questionnaire a voice asks a series of spoken questions, and the guitar ensemble replies, with the voice spoken by Sorrentino's wife, Barbara Czepulonis.

The result is a tour-de-force in many ways, from the brilliance of Sorrentino's playing to the tantalising way we are forced to think strongly about the guitar ensemble responses

Further details from Bandcamp.

A year of uncertainty & change has encouraged new, radical ways of working: DISRUPT Festival

DISRUPT Festival 2021
One of the things that we have learned from the past 18 months is that, when it comes to our standard performance model, things can change and ought to. Many organisations have invested in the technology to enable live-streaming, and you sense that a 'normal' future (whatever and whenever that may be) will be more of a mixed model for the performing arts.

Arising directly out of the last year's restrictions and trials, the DISRUPT Festival is taking place virtually on 8-9 July 2021, co-ordinated by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Barbican (in partnership with the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, the Culture Mile, the Lived Experience Network, Maya Productions, and Slung Low). The festival is presenting a programme of discussions, panels and workshops with the intention of exploring how the performing arts can support communities during the pandemic, and how a year of uncertainty and change has encouraged new and radical ways of working. The programme has been created entirely from open submissions and selected by a panel of 14 community members and artists. 

The commissions for DISRUPT that will form the programme of work across the festival include:

  • Rebecca Biscuit and Heather Bandenburg's Mummy Vs is a performance that will examine the effect of COVID-19 on the childcare crisis and the pressures on new parents, bringing the domestic to life in the spectacular nature of a wrestling show
  • The Margate Bookie and Co-Relate, the creators of The Feedback Machine, an innovative online platform which provides feedback and support to writers at all levels during the pandemic, will be discussing the project
  • Peer Productions and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics': 50 Days: Alone Together tells the story of ten teens and their first 50 days in lockdown
  • Laura Kenyon and Centre 151:  This project will work with women who have experienced domestic abuse to create a ‘handbook’ using movement and improvisations to empower them to tell their story in their own voices
  • Rhubarb Theatre and Addy Farmer and Lincolnshire County Council and SHINE Network: an animation for schools created by Rhubarb Theatre, as well a selection of resources for adults, schools, and children to help encourage dialogue about depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Maya Productions and Darnall Wellbeing and Ignite Imaginations and Roshni Sheffield: inspired by Maya’s new musical, Benny and the Greycats which tells the story of an Anglo-Indian family moving from South India to Sheffield, this project will work with an over 50s South Asian and ethnically diverse group in Sheffield, providing participants with new skills and respite from the constraints of COVID-19 through memory sharing, music, art and theatre-making
  • Breakfast Club and The Magpie Project:  Over five weeks, Breakfast Club will work with mothers supported by The Magpie Project to produce a series of sonic postcards in response to material developed by the mothers in workshops, which will include instrumental improvisations, spoken word, field recordings and moments captured during workshop conversations
Full details from the festival website.

Bach's Goldberg Variations in a winning new arrangement for violin, guitar and cello

JS Bach, arr. David Juritz Goldberg Variations; David Juritz, Craig Ogden, Tim Hugh; Nimbus

JS Bach, arr. David Juritz Goldberg Variations; David Juritz, Craig Ogden, Tim Hugh; Nimbus Alliance

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new arrangement of Bach's keyboard masterpiece which deftly combines old and new in wonderfully winning performances

Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations, or to give the work its original title Clavier Ubung bestehend in einer Aria mit verschiedenen Verænderungen vors Clavicimbal mit 2 Manualen (Keyboard exercise, consisting of an Aria with diverse variations for harpsichord with two manuals) was published in 1741 and can be seen to represent the beginning of Bach's final decade with its series of summation works, including the Musical Offering, the Art of Fugue and the Mass in B minor. It is in a form which other composers were using, a short theme and then a series of variations, and both Buxtehude and Handel had published such compendia, but Bach's music takes the genre to the ultimate.

Unusually it was published, the fourth of Bach's Klavierübung (previous printed volumes had included the six keyboard partitas and the Italian Concerto). Unlike works such as the Art of Fugue, we have a clear idea of the forces for which it was written; Bach's preface clearly states that is is for harpsichord and specifically for two manual harpsichord. And there is a strong suggestion of a performance tradition (unlike the Art of Fugue and the Mass in B minor) with the premiere probably being given by the virtuoso harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg for whom the variations are named nowadays. But being written for a two-manual harpsichord (and Bach specifies which variations should use two manuals) means that modern performers playing it on a single manual harpsichord or on the piano are introducing an element of transcription. Perhaps because of this, or because of the sheer virtuosity in the way Bach changes the textures of the music from variation to variation, the work has always attracted adaptations. On a new disc from Nimbus Alliance, violinist David Juritz has arranged Bach's Goldberg Variations for the intriguing combination of violin (David Juritz), guitar (Craig Ogden) and cello (Tim Hugh), and the arrangement is also being published by Nimbus Music Publishing.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Eight Sketches for Piano by the young American composer Aidan Vass

Aidan Vass: Eight Sketches for Piano

Aidan Vass is a young (17-year-old!) composer based in Los Angeles. He is a two-time YoungArts winner and composer fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is studying under composer Andrew Norman, who is the director of the Los Angeles Philarmonic's Composer Fellowship Program for high school composers. As a fellow, Vass has written for ensembles such as the American Youth Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Vass has already developed significant catalogue, with solo pieces, chamber music, choral pieces and orchestra. On 14 March, he released his debut solo piano album, Eight Sketches for Piano, and he has spent the last year on the project and has written, performed, and engineered the album by himself.

Eight Sketches for Piano is, as the title suggests, eight piano solos lasting in total a little over 30 minutes. The titles, 'Life', 'Mourning', 'Sleep', 'Vice', 'Purgatory', 'Crucis', 'Silentium', 'Ascensio' are clear indicators of a narrative. Vass discribes it thus, the work 'captures an individual’s struggle with morality. Each piece explores a distinct topic that contributes to an overarching narrative, which follows the juxtaposition of one’s loss of morality with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.'

This is serious stuff and these are serious pieces, and the music is well away from atmospheric noodling and Vass has created eight rather striking works with an interesting complexity of texture. There are plenty of influences that we can detect, but Vass seems well set to develop his own voice. The music is tonal and uses harmonic development, with some interesting piano textures. It isn't Minimalism, and the voice that emerges from the music is very engaging. You can follow the work's programme, or simply enjoy a series of richly romantic piano sketches.

Vass' on-line offering for Eight Sketches for Piano encompasses not just his performances and his notes, but also PDFs of the music. If you are interested in supporting a talented young composer then do try. Further information from Vass' website and on-line streaming from Hearnow.

Science Fiction, AI, music and collaborative creation: the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra

Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra - Signum Classics
If we watch one of the classic Broadway musicals, then whose work are we seeing? 

With a work like My Fair Lady the creators are usually listed as Lerner and Loewe. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and the lyrics, whilst Frederick Loewe wrote the music. And of course, with many musicals there are three names, book, music and lyrics. But they are not the only ones responsible for creating the work. The work's original director and producers would have a big say, so after pre-Broadway tryouts many musicals had extensive surgery, which means that their final shape is a group affair.

With Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark, the book is by Moss Hart, who also directed, lyrics are by Ira Gerswhin, and the producer was Sam Harris. The musical features three extended dream episodes, mini-operettas, but Weill planned four of these and one was dropped, whilst the show-stopping patter song 'Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)' was added specifically because Danny Kaye had been cast as Russell Paxton and Kaye was good at patter songs!

But this fails to include another important member of the team. Kurt Weill was unusual, he did all his orchestrations, and virtually all the other Broadway composers relied on an orchestrator. The orchestrations for My Fair Lady were done by Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981), a great musician who effectively created the mid-century Broadway sound, working with everyone from Jerome Kerne, to Gershwin, to Cole Porter, to Rogers and Hammerstein, to Lerner and Lowe. To talk about the Broadway musical from this period without mentioning Robert Russell Bennett is to miss out an essential component of the creative team.

There is a similar collective spirit, this time more deliberately so, in the Yellow River Concerto which premiered in China in 1969. It is the result of a group of composers arranging an older work, Yellow River Cantata, into a concerto, but in fact the presiding genius was a non-musician, Madame Mao. She initiated the project and, after the premiere in 1969, it was she who ordered the revisions to create what is now the standard version. There are a number of Chinese works from this period which are collaborative (and political), largely because of the power of political thought in the country at the period, the distrust of individual action and the emphasis on the collective.

Yet, somehow we remain somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of group creation in classical music. We might cheerfully list a whole group of names as co-creators in a Motown song, but we seem to have a need to assign a classical work to a single creator. So that we usually refer to Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark despite the complexities of its creation, and many commentators still seem uncomfortable with the idea that Claudio Monteverdi's final opera, L'Incoronazione di Poppea, which premiered in Venice in 1643 when the composer was 76, is in fact the product of a number of musical minds with the elderly composer guiding a group of younger composers.

Perhaps it is all Richard Wagner's fault. He is responsible for so much of our opera going; the popularisation of using a pit, the idea of sitting in the dark and concentrating on the performance, and the idea of the composer as a single presiding genuis (Wagner planned, wrote the librettos, wrote the music and was involved in the first performances at the festival he created).

Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Wild Blue Yonder: new disc of chamber music by Eleanor Alberga

Wild Blue Yonder - Eleanor Alberga; Thomas Bowes, Eleanor Alberga, Richard Watkins, Nicholas Daniel, Ensemble Arcadiana; Navona Records

Wild Blue Yonder
- Eleanor Alberga; Thomas Bowes, Eleanor Alberga, Richard Watkins, Nicholas Daniel, Ensemble Arcadiana; Navona Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The world of sleep, dreams and nightmares explored in this satisfying new disc of chamber music from Eleanor Alberga

Wild Blue Yonder is a new disc from Navona Records featuring four chamber pieces by UK-based Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga performed by Thomas Bowes (violin), Eleanor Alberga (piano), Richard Watkins (horn), Nicholas Daniel (oboe) and Ensemble Arcadiana.

The album was originally planned to have a somewhat different shape, but the events of 2020 forced the cancellation of recordings of two of Alberga's large-scale chamber pieces. So the new disc features new recordings of Alberga's Shining Gate of Morpheus for horn and string quartet (2012) and Succubus Moon for oboe and string quartet (2007) plus live archive recordings of two works for violin and piano, No-man's land Lullaby (1997) and The Wild Blue Yonder (1995).

Often, composer-led discs can end up being a semi-random assemblage of achievable recordings (and I speak from experience here), but despite the changes wrought by 2020, Alberga's programme on the disc has a rather satisfying shape and the four pieces work together as a whole, but I do hope that we get to hear the missing works in the not so distant future!

As Thomas Bowes (violinist on the disc and Alberga's husband) writes, the album can be heard as a journey of several encounters in the realm of sleep and dreams, ranging from demons, comforters, guardian angels and more impish spirits.

Handel and Purcell in an orchard

Eboracum Baroque in the Orchard Tea Garden, Grantchester
Eboracum Baroque in the Orchard Tea Garden, Grantchester

What better place to experience Baroque music outdoors than in an orchard, and one that serves tea to boot. The enterprising Eboracum Baroque is returning to The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester for a series of performances in June 2021. 

Their short season opens on 24 June with an all-Purcell programme which features highlights from his semi-opera The Fairy Queen alongside his opera Dido and Aeneas. Purcell was also the theme of Eboracum Baroque's virtual concert Purcell and a Pint, and they will be doing a live version of it in Grantchester, there is also a programme of popular Baroque classics from Handel, Purcell and Vivaldi including operatic arias, concertos and instrumental suites, and the season finishes with a performance of Handel's pastoral Acis and Galatea.

The Orchard Tea Garden will be serving refreshments before the performances and during the interval. Audience members are invited to bring their own seating if they wish but the famous green deck chairs will also be out. 

Full details from the Eboracum Baroque website.

 

From Beverley to Budleigh Salterton: festivals coming back to life

Beverly and the Minster (photo courtesy of Beverley Minster website)
Beverly and the Minster (photo courtesy of Beverley Minster website)

It is heartening to see smaller festivals coming back to life and announcing (careful) plans, selecting larger venues, doing outdoor gigs, shortening concerts and such. Two that popped into my inbox this week are the Budleigh Music Festival which takes place in the East Devon town of Budleigh Salterton from 9 to 17 July 2021, and the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival (organised by the National Centre for Early Music in York) which takes place in and around Beverley in Yorkshire from 28 to 30 May 2021 (and online from 5 to 6 June 2021).

The Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival is featuring live concerts in May, but there will be only a limited number of tickets on public sale because of limitations in numbers (due to social distancing) and the festival honouring the bookings of all those from last year's cancelled festival. However all the concerts will be available via a special digital festival in June.

The festival opens with Stile Antico in Toward the Dawn, a programme that moves from Allegri to Nico Muhly, sung in the splendour of Beverley Minster [where my eldest two uncles were christened]. Other performers include Alva (Vivien Ellis voice, Giles Lewin fiddles, bagpipes, Leah Stuttard medieval harps) in Angels in Architecture, La Serenissima with recorder player Tabea Debus, solo violinist Kati Debretzeni in Through the Eye of a Lense, a virtual tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin, and Ex Corde, director Paul Gameson, in Heaven on Earth: Thomas More’s Utopian Dream, with music by Robert Fayrfax and Josquin des Prez, plus the premiere of a commission by Christopher Fox inspired by Thomas More’s vision. 

Also taking place over the weekend are the hugely popular Ballad Walks, led by Vivien Ellis, brimming with songs and stories from the streets. The tales span 800 years of history and reveal Beverley’s sometimes murky past as well as the fascinating tales of some of the inhabitants.

All five concerts will be filmed and available online, with an added bonus of many exclusive treats.  Historian David Neave will talk about the Pilgrims of the East Riding who left these shores in 1638 to set out for a new, and better, world in the America, Stile Antico share the music of the period through a specially commissioned film and John Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, will introduce the festival from the Rococo splendour of Beverley Guildhall. 

Full details from the National Centre for Early Music website

St Peter's Church, Budleigh Salterton
St Peter's Church, Budleigh Salterton
venue for the 2021 Budleigh Music Festival

In Budleigh Salterton the festival is opening with tenor Daniel Norman, pianist Sholto Kyoch and the Brodsky Quartet in their performance of RVW's On Wenlock Edge with Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood's animated film [see my review from the Oxford Lieder Festival] plus music by Ravel and more. Then the next night Jess Gillam and her band arrive in town with music by Luke Howard, Piazzolla, Joby Talbot and Kurt Weill. The festival finale is a recital by baritone Sir Willard White in arias from his greatest roles alongside songs from the shows and a few surprises. 

In between there are recitals from pianist Peter Donohoe, in Schubert, guitarist Craig Ogden and accordionist Milos Milojevic, rising star violinist Coco Tomita with pianist Simon Callaghan, and a series of young musician lunchtime recitals from pianist Alex Wilson, oboist Ella Leonard, violinist Rachel Stonham, pianist Clara Sherratt, percussionist Meadow Brooks, and recorder player Eliza Haskins with Toril Azzalini-Macheler (percussion).

Less traditional is Colourscape, an interactive walk-through labyrinth of colour, light and music.  Held on The Green, it is a family-friendly experience which brings a new element to the Festival, offering visitors the chance to walk into a new world of radiating colour filled with music and dance.

Full details from the festival website.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Opera North launches its 2021/22 season and looks forward to the completion of the new Howard Opera Centre

Garry Walker conducting the Orchestra of Opera North. (Photo Justin Slee)
Garry Walker conducting the Orchestra of Opera North. (Photo Justin Slee)
 

Opera North has announced its plans for 2021/22, and it is heartening to see some of the company's cancelled projects re-appearing, with new productions of Carmen, Rigoletto and Alcina plus a concert staging of Parsifal. Alongside main-stage plans, the company's £18m redevelopment of its city centre home, the Howard Opera Centre, enter its final stages, and the Howard Assembly Room re-opens in October with a full programme.

The season opens with the company's first new production of Bizet's Carmen in over a decade conducted by Garry Walker in his first production as Opera North's new music director, and directed by Edward Dick, who directed Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in 2017 [see my review]. American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams sings Carmen with Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger as Don José. 

The second new production is Verdi's Rigoletto directed by British Nigerian actor/director Femi Elufowoju Jr. in his operatic debut. Garry Walker conducts a cast including Eric Greene in the title role, [Greene sang Porgy in ENO's 2018 production of Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess, see our review] Sir Willard White as Monterone, Roman Arndt as the Duke of Mantua and Jasmine Habersham as Gilda. 

To complete the trio, there is a new production of Handel's Alcina, conducted by Laurence Cummings and directed by Tim Albery [whose production of Handel's Giulio Cesare was revived at Opera North in 2019, see my review], with Máire Flavin as Alcina, Fflur Wyn [last seen as Marzelline in Beethoven's Fidelio at Opera North, see my review] as Morgana and Patrick Terry [who we caught in Handel's Berenice at Covent Garden in 2019, see my review] as Ruggiero and this will be Opera North's first environmentally sustainable production. 

There is also a double-bill of works by Bernstein which sees a revival of Trouble in Tahiti paired with a new production of West Side Story Symphonic Dances in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Next year's concert staging is Wagner's Parsifal which opens at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring to concert halls. Richard Farnes conducts with Katarina Karnéus as Kundry, Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz and Toby Spence as Parsifal, the latter two both role debuts and both interesting singers who have been making the journey towards more dramatic roles in recent years [Spence sang Florestan in Opera North's 2020 performance of Fidelio, whilst I chatted to Brindley Sherratt about his Wagner plans in March 2020, see my intervew]. Not to be missed.

Exterior of redevelopment work on New Briggate below Howard Assembly Room
Exterior of redevelopment work on New Briggate below Howard Assembly Room

With the reopening of the Howard Assembly Room, the season there will include Courtney Pine and  pianist Zoe Rahman, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa with Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita, Leveret, and Richard Dawson.

A new Making Music campaign has been launched to drive donations to complete the redevelopment project and fill the new spaces with music. The names of Making Music supporters will become part of a new installation symbolising a musical score. Wrapping around the central staircase in the new glass atrium, the installation will celebrate the making of music in the heart of the building: www.operanorth.co.uk/support-us/making-music/

Full details from the Opera North website.

Scottish Opera's Outreach and Education department celebrates its 50th anniversary

Scottish Opera-Go-Round Bus in 1971 (Photo The Glasgow Herald)
The way we were: the Scottish Opera-Go-Round Bus in 1971 (Photo The Glasgow Herald)

Scottish Opera's Outreach and Education department is rightly celebrating the milestone of reaching its 50th anniversary year, and the events and projects planned show that they are as busy as ever despite restrictions.

A package of digital initiatives for primary school children marks the first time the Company has offered projects to all Primary 1 to 7 ages simultaneously, giving schools the opportunity to engage all pupils in a Scottish Opera primary schools project at the same time ranging from introducing Primary 1 to 3 to brass instruments whilst also supporting delivery of the Early and First Level numeracy curriculum, to a digital storybook project which introduces Mandarin language skills alongside concepts of food preparation and healthy eating (for Primary 3 and 4), whilst a digital performance project invites Primary 5 to 7 pupils on an intergalactic adventure to save Planet Earth and engage with the topic of climate change as Scotland prepares to host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) later this year.

Scottish Opera’s work with older pupils in secondary schools includes the creation of resources relating to a sequence of filmed scenes in three contrasting stagings, directed by Roxana Haines, of Donizetti’s L'elisir d'amore as part of the Scottish Opera: On Screen collection. Available to schools in Spring 2022, the resources will encourage critical analysis from secondary school pupils studying Music, Art & Design and Theatre Studies.

Scottish Opera online performance of Primary School project Fever! in 2020
Scottish Opera online performance of Primary School project Fever! in 2020

Scottish Opera Young Company returns to the stage for the first time since March 2019 with a new production Kurt Weill’s The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken directed by Roxana Haines. Rehearsals are underway via Zoom and will culminate in outdoor performances in the car park of the Company’s Edington Street Production Studios in Glasgow on 31 July and 1 August. Looking further ahead, in 2022 the company will give the world premiere of Rubble by composer Gareth Williams and writer/director Johnny McKnight, specially commissioned for the department’s milestone anniversary.

With a new Breath Cycle project, the company begins work on a new initiative to create a song collection for and by people affected by Covid-19, and there are further projects to focus on health and wellbeing with plans also underway to engage children with the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

Full information from the Scottish Opera website.

'Art and life are not two separate things' - Fidelio Cafe re-opens with new ticket options

Fidelio Cafe, Clerkenwell
Fidelio Cafe, Clerkenwell

Since it was founded in 2019 the Fidelio Cafe  (formerly the Fidelio Orchestra Cafe) on Clerkenwell Road, London has established itself on the London music scene, serving the local community by day as a cafe, music practice venue and smart working space, and then in the evenings transforming into a food and classical music venue where you can listen to a concert and then eat a three-course meal curated by chef Alan Rosenthal as well as visiting chefs.

The cafe is opening its doors again on Tuesday 16 May 2021 with a calendar of internationally-renowned artists and two new ticket options starting from £15 to make its music offer even more accessible to everyone, while adhering to current safety guidelines. For those on a fixed budget, the new Intermezzo ticket offers one drink of choice and the full concert from the Fidelio lounge, with a standing or restricted view, all for £15. And for the under 30s there is 50% discount on the full concert experience.

Coming up in May are concerts with the Consone Quartet in Mozart and Schumann, pianist Patrick Hemmerlé in the complete Chopin Etudes op 10 and op 25, the Maxwell Quartet and clarinettist Anthony Friend in Beethoven and Brahms, pianist Samson Tsoy in Schubert, violinist Francesca Dego and pianist Francesca Leonardi in Mozart, Busoni and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and the Benedetti Trio (Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexei Grynyuk) in Brahms and Beethoven.

'Art and life are not two separate things' - Felix Mendelssohn

Full details from the Fidelio Cafe website.

Black Lives in Music: new organisation, new survey, new video series

Black Lives in Music
Research from Arts Council England has shown that of leadership roles occupied by employees at almost 100 of its leading National Portfolio Organisations, only 10% of Chief Executives, 11% of Senior Managers, 11% of Chairs, and 15% of board members were from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. But is currently no data about the experience and everyday reality for Black musicians in the UK.

Now a new advocacy organisation,  Black Lives in Music (BLiM) is aiming to change that and is currently running a survey looking at the issues Black creatives faces in multiple areas including racial discrimination, mental health, well-being and economic disparity. The survey is on-line at https://blim.org.uk/change and they are appealing for as many black musicians as possible to fill in the survey, which closes on 16 May 2021.

BLiM is a new advocacy organisation founded in March 2021 to address racial inequality in the music industry and create opportunities for Black musicians and professionals launches today. A part of this, it has launched a new video series, A Celebration of Black Music.The series welcomes different guests each week discussing their experiences as Black artists, from how they got into music and began their careers, to their thoughts on the future of Black lives in the music industry. The first episode features composer, singer, songwriter and cellist Ayanna Witter Johnson and 2018’s BBC Young Jazz Musician winner Xhosa Cole, and the second episode features Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 2016’s BBC Young Musician Award winner, with band leader Shabaka Hutchings, music psychologist and researcher Natasha Hendry and musician Jake Isaac to come.

Full details from the BLiM website.


Monday, 26 April 2021

Spring song continues at Leeds Lieder with Fleur Barron, Gerald Finley, Benson Wilson, Sarah Connolly and many more

Leeds Lieder - Ella O'Neill, Benson Wilson (Image from live stream)
Leeds Lieder - Ella O'Neill, Benson Wilson (Image from live stream)

Fleur Barron, Ashok Klouda, Joseph Middleton, Michael Mofidian, Jâms Coleman, Gerald Finley, Julius Drake, Benson Wilson, Ella O'Neill, Julia Mariko Smith, Christopher Pulleyn, and Dame Sarah Connolly; Leeds Lieder at Leeds Town Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 April 2021
A terrific weekend of song in Leeds mixing mature artists with talent young singers

Leeds Lieder, artistic director Joseph Middleton, continued it Spring season of song with a weekend of recitals (24 & 25 April 2021) from Leeds Town Hall featuring Fleur Barron, Ashok Klouda, Joseph Middleton, Michael Mofidian, Jâms Coleman, Gerald Finley, Julius Drake, Benson Wilson, Ella O'Neill, Julia Mariko Smith, Christopher Pulleyn, and Dame Sarah Connolly, with Michael Mofidian, Julia Mariko Smith, and Christopher Pulleyn Being Momentum Artists, in a series of wide-ranging programmes which took in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, Chausson and Elgar's explorations of the sea, programmes inspired by a Hong Kong childhood and by Anzac Day along with much else besides.

The weekend began with mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, cellist Ashok Klouda and pianist Joseph Middleton in a programme entitled Dreams, Homeland and Childhood which Barron, who is Singaporean-British, had created inspired by her upbringing in Hong Kong. She and Middleton began with a sequence which interleaved Brahms' three Heimweh (Homesickness) songs with songs by two contemporary Chinese-American composer Bun-Ching Lam (born 1954) and Chen Yi (born 1954), and Charles Ives' sentimental but touching My Native Land. The result was some intriguing juxtapositions, with Bun-Ching Lam's folk-inspired unaccompanied Music when soft voices dies flowing directly in Brahms' evocative Wie traulich war das Flecken. Chen Yi's Bright Moonlight was more modernist with intriging influences in its delicate textures.

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