Monday, 3 October 2022

From folk-inspired music to contemporary music mixing Carnatic and Western classical: finale concert of Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival

The Old Palace, Hatfield House
The Old Palace, Hatfield House

Finale Concert:
Boccherini, Piazzolla, JP Jofre, Joseph Phibbs, Shruthi Rajasekar, Morten Lauridsen; Cantate Youth Choir, Herefordshire County Youth Choir, ORA Singers, Suzi Digby, Festival resident musicians; Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival at the Old Palace
Reviewed 2 October 2022 (★★★★)

A diverse end to the festival, including two world premieres, folk-inspired music from the Nordic countries, Romania, Argentina and Spain, plus cross pollination between Carnatic and Western classical musics

The Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival finished on Sunday 2 October 2022 with a final concert in the Old Palace celebrating the festival's theme of A World of Music, involving the festival's resident musicians and guests including JP Jofre (bandoneon), Adam Walker (flute), Morgan Szymanski (guitar), Nirmala Rajasekar (veena), the Lodestar Trio, the United Strings of Europe, Ensemble Renard, ORA Singers, Suzi Digby (conductor), Herefordshire County Youth Choir, and Cantate Youth Choir, performing music by Boccherini, Piazzolla, JP Jofre, Stanford, Joseph Phibbs, Shruthi Rajasekar and Morten Lauridsen.

We began with United Strings of Europe (leader Julian Azkoul) in Boccherini's Musica noturna delle strade di Madrid, his quintet evoking the sights and sounds of night-time Madrid. A work that he refused to publish during his lifetime as he said that it would not make sense to anyone unfamiliar with Madrid's night life. It is an idiomatic and colourful piece, with bells, blind musicians, soldiers' drums and far more. The ensemble played it with elegance and verve, as well as with a nice degree of creative freedom, and they were clearly having an enjoyable time, and so were we.

From Madrid at night, we travelled to the cafes of Argentina.

Sunday, 2 October 2022

Far more than a musical curiosity: fine musical drama in ETO's revival of Handel's Ottone

Handel: Ottone - Nazan Fikret - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone - Nazan Fikret - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Handel: Ottone; Elizabeth Karani, Nazan Fikret, Lauren Young, James Hall, Kieron-Connor Valentine, Edward Jowle, director: James Conway, conductor: Gerry Cornelius; English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire
Reviewed 1 October 2022 (★★★★)

Handel's rarely performed Ottone in a revival of James Conway's imaginative and rather beautiful production with a cast who engage us from the outset and take us on a real emotional journey

English Touring Opera's Autumn season launched on Saturday (1 October 2022) with a revival of James Conway's production of Handel's Ottone at the Hackney Empire. This Autumn season is Conway's farewell to the company, as he steps down as artistic director, and the season is a celebration of one of the company's strengths, performances of Baroque opera with three of Conway's Handel productions being featured including a new production of Tamerlano

And don't forget that the company isn't just about performing Baroque operas, rare bel canto, Mozart and later classics, it is about touring as well. For the Autumn season seven venues across England will see some or all of the programme. During Conway's 20 something years at the helm of English Touring Opera there have been a remarkable number of operas by Handel and other Baroque composers, all taken round England in a way that no other company can emulate.

James Conway's production of Handel's Ottone was revived by Christopher Moon Little. The Old Street Band was conducted by Gerry Cornelius, ETO's music director. Designs were by takis and lighting was by Tim van't Hof. Gillian Webster was due to sing the role of Gismonda, however owing to illness her place was taken by Elizabeth Karani; evidently this happened at short notice, but Karani performed the role on stage and gave little evidence of her assumption being last-minute. Kieron-Connor Valentine was Adelberto, James Hall was Ottone, Lauren Young as Matilda, Nazan Fikret was Teofane and Edward Jowle was Emireno.

Handel: Ottone - James Hall - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone - James Hall - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Theatrical grandeur: ENO launches its new season with Christoph Loy's new production of Tosca

Puccini: Tosca - Noel Bouley & ensemble - English National Opera (photo Genevieve Girling)
Puccini: Tosca (end of Act 1) - Noel Bouley & ensemble - English National Opera (photo Genevieve Girling)

Puccini: Tosca; Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, Adam Smith, Noel Bouley/Roland Wood, director Christoph Loy/Georg Zlabinger, conductor Leo Hussain; English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Christoph Loy's undoubtedly grand production mixes realism with theatrical artifice. Illness meant we experience a quartet of soloists rather than trio, but there was plenty to enjoy

Back in the 1970s, when English National Opera was producing a series of ground-breaking productions such as Strauss' Salome with Josephine Barstow, there was also a new production of Puccini's Tosca. It was relatively traditional, but long running and remained in the repertoire for some time, I remember seeing the production in 1985 with tenor Charles Craig (66 at the time) and soprano Phyllis Cannan (making her role debut, I think). Since then, ENO has had productions by Keith Warner and Catherine Malfitano, neither of which endured in the repertoire and never giving the company the sort of bread-and-butter production it needs like Anthony Mingella's production of Madama Butterfly.

The problem with Tosca, as with many of Puccini's operas, is that the work is a carefully crafted structure that directors interfere with at their peril; there are only a few rough edges through which a director can insert themselves. Christoph Loy's production of Puccini's Tosca was first seen at The Finnish National Opera and Ballet in 2018 and is the director's first production for the ENO.

Puccini: Tosca - Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, Adam Smith - English National Opera (photo Genevieve Girling)
Puccini: Tosca - Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, Adam Smith - English National Opera (photo Genevieve Girling)

Christoph Loy's production of Puccini's Tosca, with associate director George Zlabinger, opened ENO's 2022/23 season on Friday 30 September 2022 with Irish soprano Sinéad Campbell-Wallace (last seen at the Coliseum as Mimi, see my review) as Tosca and American-based British tenor Adam Smith as Cavaradossi (in his ENO debut). American baritone Noel Bouley was Scarpia, but Bouley was unfortunately ill and walked the role whilst Roland Wood sang from the side. Msimelelo Mbali was Angelotti, Lucia Lucas as the sacristan, John Findon was Spoletta and Ossian Huskinson was Sciarrone. Designs were by Christian Schmidt, lighting by Olaf Winter. The translation used was the classic one by Edmund Tracey.

Friday, 30 September 2022

From Scandinavia to Buenos Aires by way of Paris and Vienna: the Hatfield House Chamber Music festival opens with a showcase for its varied artists

Queen Elizabeth I presides over an empty stage at Hatfield House awaiting the performers
Queen Elizabeth I presides over an empty stage in Hatfield House's Marble Hall awaiting the performers

Schubert, Poulenc, traditional, Robin Holloway, Dvorak, Jessie Montgomery, JP Jofre; Adam Walker, Julian Bliss. JP Jofre, Guy Johnston, Lodestar Trio, Mishka Rushdie Momen, Charles Owen; Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival at Hatfield House
Reviewed 29 September 2022 (★★★★)

A bandoneon and two nyckelharpas alongside classical music from Schubert to Poulenc to a Robin Holloway premiere and more besides in a wonderfully eclectic start to the festival

There is an eclectic, international genre-crossing feel to this year's Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival where the festival artists include the Lodestar Trio (a collaboration between violinist Max Baillie and the Scandinavian folk duo Erik Rydvall and Olav Mjelva), veena player Nirmala Rjasekar, and Argentinian composer and bandoneon player JP (Juan Pablo) Jofre.

The festival launched on Thursday 29 September 2022 with a pair of concerts in the Marble Hall at Hatfield House. The setting has changed slightly this year, the famous Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, which usually sits right behind the performers, is on its travels having been lent to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and its place taken by one of the house's other portraits of the queen.

The early evening concert on Thursday featured Jessica Duchen (narrator) and Mishka Rushdie Momen (piano) in Immortal Beloved based on Duchen's book about Beethoven. This was followed by the festival's first evening concert, an eclectic programme which took advantage of the nature of the festival with its resident artists to give us a wide ranging and varied programme that somehow worked. 

We began with Schubert's Quartettsatz in C minor played by a quartet from the United Strings of Europe led by Julian Azkoul, followed by Poulenc's Clarinet Sonata with Julian Bliss (clarinet) and Charles Owen (piano), and the first half ended with a short set from the Lodestar Trio. The second half began with the world premiere of Robin Holloway's Flute Quartet with Adam Walker (flute) and the United Strings of Europe, followed by Dvorak's Waldesruhe, Op.68 No. 5 with Guy Johnston (cello) and Mishka Rushdie Momen (piano), then United Strings of Europe in Jessie Montgomery's Strum. The evening ended with the UK premiere of JP Jofre's Double Concerto for clarinet and bandoneon, string quintet and piano, played by Julian Bliss, JP Jofre, United Strings of Europe and Richard Gowers (piano).

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Essential Reading

We'll soon be sending out our latest e-newsletter, our monthly summary of all the reviews, features and interviews on Planet Hugill. 

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Our September newsletter is out, September on Planet Hugill: Vinci's Alessandro nell'Indie in Bayreuth, Bernstein's Candide in Blackheath

Try it here, on MadMimi.

Gustavo Dudamel been chosen as the fourteenth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate

Gustavo Dudamel & the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Photo Dustin Downing)
Gustavo Dudamel & the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Photo Dustin Downing)

Founded in 1983 in Glenn Gould's home-town of Toronto, Canada, the Glenn Gould Foundation celebrates the life, career, and enduring influence of Canadian pianist, writer and broadcaster Glenn Gould. Every two years, the Foundation convenes an international jury to award the Glenn Gould Prize to a living individual for a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts. 

Nominees for the international prize come from a broad spectrum of creative disciplines including music, theatre, writing, film, video, radio, television, recording, technology, architecture and design. Past laureates of the international prize include documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (2020), Jessye Norman (2018), Leonard Cohen (2011), El Sistema founder Dr. José Antonio Abreu (2008), Yo-Yo Ma (1999), and Oscar Peterson (1993).

Venezuelan-born conductor, violinist and music education activist Gustavo Dudamel has been chosen as the fourteenth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate. Gustavo Dudamel is currently music and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and music director of the Opéra National de Paris and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra.  Dudamel was chosen from a distinguished list of international candidates across a broad spectrum of creative disciplines, nominated by members of the general public from around the globe.

Full details from the foundation's website.

Liverpool Philharmonic's £1 ticket sale returns

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

On Sunday 2 October, the Liverpool Philharmonic will put 1000 tickets for sale for £1 each in response to the cost of living crisis. These will be for 10 events across Liverpool Philharmonic’s season; tickets will be available for purchase in-person only from the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall box office from 10am – 2pm. 

A wide range of concerts will be available, from performances by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to rock/pop and Music Room events, all for less than the price of a cup of coffee. The sale has been running for over 10 years, inviting audiences to discover music and Liverpool Philharmonic for an affordable price. 

Domingo Hindoyan, chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra says: "I am delighted that we can once again offer £1 tickets for our concerts. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and I hope that this offer will encourage new audiences to join us for an exciting season at the Philharmonic Hall. Our love and passion for music is at the heart of every concert and performance, and we hope that audiences old and new can experience this."

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the UK's oldest continuing professional symphony orchestra. The origins of its concert series date back to the formation of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, a concert society founded by a group of Liverpool music lovers in 1840. Domingo Hindoyan joined the orchestra as chief conductor in September 2021. 

The orchestra is the largest music organisation and one of the largest cultural organisations in the city. Liverpool Philharmonic premieres and commissions more music than any other UK orchestra, with over 150 works premiered and commissioned in the last 10 years. 

In 2021/22, 107,817 participants of all ages took part in Liverpool Philharmonic's learning and community engagement programmes. Over 14,000 people living with mental ill-health have benefitted from its music and mental health programme over the last 13 years.

Full details from the Liverpool Philharmonic website.

It’s not just the money: Continuo Foundation expands its reach with its fourth funding round

Continuo Foundation round four grantees

Continuo Foundation has announced the recipients of its fourth funding round, awarding £100,000 to 24 period instrument ensembles, selected from 55 applications requesting support that was three times greater than the funds available. Continuo is supporting 14 new groups, thereby extending its community of grant recipients to 65 period-instrument ensembles. Since its founding in September 2020, the total funding provided by Continuo to the UK's Early Music sector is now £460,000.

The 24 ensembles receiving grants will undertake 67 performances and recordings over the next six months, with projects taking place in 45 locations across the UK, bringing the total number of communities benefiting from Continuo-supported performances to more than one hundred.   

The recently formed ensembles in this grant round include the Cedar Consort, who will tour a Telemann programme featuring recorder soloist Tabea Debus; Figure Ensemble, who will juxtapose Carpentier’s Messe pour les trépassées with the Fauré Requiem; and The Vauxhall Band, who will bring the atmosphere of 18th century Pleasure Gardens and theatre to life in a dramatised concert.

Another ensemble new to Continuo’s grants, Solomon’s Knot, will tour a large-scale project marking the 300th anniversary of Johann Kuhnau. The group's artistic director, bass-baritone Jonathan Sells comments: "It’s not just the money – it is so valuable to be part of the Continuo Foundation community. Continuo is a great ambassador for the whole early music sector, approaching support holistically, giving musicians tools to be more successful and providing a voice for the sector in the UK."

The 24 recipients of Continuo’s fourth round of project grants are, Baroque In The North, Brook Street Band, Cedar Consort, Ceruleo, Chelys Consort of Viols, Ex Cathedra, Feinstein Ensemble, Figure Ensemble, Fiori Musicali, Fretwork, Galliarda, Gonzaga Band, Laudonia, Linarol Consort of Viols, Lux Musicae London, Manchester Baroque, The Mozartists, Musical & Amicable Society, Sackbut Frenzy, Solomon’s Knot, Spiritato, The TFG, The Vauxhall Band, and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists.

Full details from the Continuo Foundation's website.

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

A wonderfully vivid evening: Blackheath Halls Opera in Bernstein's Candide

Leonard Bernstein: Candide - Nick Pritchard & chorus - Blackheath Halls Opera
Leonard Bernstein: Candide - Nick Pritchard & chorus - Blackheath Halls Opera

Leonard Bernstein: Candide; Nick Pritchard, Ellie Neate, Sarah Pring, Frederick Long, Blackheath Halls Opera, director Sebastian Harcombe, conductor Christopher Stark; Blackheath Halls
Reviewed 27 August 2022

Bernstein's wise-cracking Broadway operetta reinvented as a vividly exuberant community theatre piece with strong solo performances a fine sense of ensemble

Bernstein's Candide has been through innumerable versions since the work's disastrous premiere on Broadway in 1956, and in many ways, it remains a sequence of songs in search of a plot with each iteration of the work taking a slightly different view. But musically there are variations too, there is a world of a difference between the sound-world of the 1950s original with its Broadway theatre orchestra and the Mahlerian luxuriance of the finale of Bernstein's recording with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1989. And the work is now performed as a theatre piece, with miked actors, and as an operetta with opera singers.

The work had something of a further reinvention at Blackheath Halls last night (27 August 2022) as Sebastian Harcombe directed Bernstein's Candide for Blackheath Halls Opera, a community enterprise that brings together members of the community, professional opera singers, production team and students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire. The cast was led by Nick Pritchard as Candide with Frederick Long as Dr Pangloss, Ellie Neate as Cunegonde, Sarah Pring as the Old Lady, James Liu as the Governor, Matthew Kellett as Maximilian plus Hannah Leggatt and Adam Brown, with the Blackheath Halls Chorus, Blackheath Halls Orchestra, Blackheath Halls Youth Opera Company and students from Greenvale School and Charlton Park Academy, all conducted by Christopher Stark. Designs were by Elliott Squire, lighting by Tracey Gibbs, movement by Jasmine Ricketts.

Leonard Bernstein: Candide - Sarah Pring, Ellie Neate - Blackheath Halls Opera
Leonard Bernstein: Candide - Sarah Pring, Ellie Neate - Blackheath Halls Opera

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Celebrating the bicentenary of Weber's Bassoon Concerto with Laurence Perkins and Greenwich Chamber Orchestra

Carl Maria von Weber (1821), by Caroline Bardua
 Carl Maria von Weber (1821), by Caroline Bardua
After a stressful four years, from 1807 to 1810, when Carl Maria von Weber worked as secretary to the King of Württemberg's brother and got entangled in his employer's financial machinations, Weber embarked on an international concert tour visiting   Munich, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Copenhagen, and St. Petersburg. In March 1811, he arrived in Munich where he worked with the court orchestra (descendant of the Mannheim orchestra that had so impressed Mozart). Weber wrote the clarinet Concertino for Heinrich Bärmann, a clarinettist in the court orchestra who would become a lifelong friend. It was such a success that the King of Bavaria commissioned Weber for two clarinet concertos. 

Other court musicians wanted concertante works from Weber, but the only one who convinced him was bassoonist Georg Friedrich Brandt, a student of Mozart's favourite bassoonist. Brandt premiered the work in Munich in December 1811, but by then Weber had left for Switzerland. Brandt subsequently performed the concerto in Vienna (1812), Prague (1813) and Ludwigslust (1817). Weber attended this last concert and as a result revised the work, publishing it in 1822

The work's textual history is complex as later 19th century editions of the work obscured Weber's original intentions regarding articulations, notes and dynamics, not to mention misprints and it is only in the 20th century that Weber's original intentions have been rediscovered.

Bassoonist Laurence Perkins (whom I first heard in recital at the Royal Northern College of Music when we were both studying in Manchester) has just done a new edition of Weber's Bassoon Concerto and has been playing it around the country, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the work's final completion.

On Saturday 22 October 2022, Laurence Perkins joins the Greenwich Chamber Orchestra, conductor David Cutts, to perform Weber's Bassoon Concerto at St Alfege's Church, Greenwich. Also in the programme is Paul Reade's Catalonia which Reade (who died 25 years ago) wrote for Perkins, plus symphonies by Mozart and Schubert.

The Greenwich Chamber Orchestra was formed in 2019 by David Cutts and is now settling in to giving an autumn and a winter concert in St Alfege Church each year. The orchestra is made up of fine amateur players from London and elsewhere who meet for a few rehearsals for each occasion.  The professional leader is the exceptional Gonzalo Acosta. Each concert of includes a concerto by internationally renowned soloists.

Full details of the concert from EventBrite

Much more than niche repertoire: Tredegar Band's Vaughan Williams on Brass

Vaughan Williams on Brass; Ross Knight, Tredegar Town Band, Ian Porthouse, Martyn Brabbins; ALBION
Vaughan Williams on Brass; Ross Knight, Tredegar Town Band, Ian Porthouse, Martyn Brabbins; ALBION
Reviewed 26 August 2022 (★★★★)

A brilliantly engaging and imaginative look at RVW's brass music, mixing the original works with both new arrangements and new versions of old favourites, all superbly played

Vaughan Williams didn't write all that much for brass band, though the medium has come to be more associated with his music thanks to arrangements of RVW's works for military band. On this disc from Albion Records, Tredegar Town Band records a selection of RVW for brass, works originally written for brass such as Henry Fifth and Variations for Brass Band, works originally written for military band such as the English Folk Songs Suite and works more usually performed in other versions such as the Tuba Concerto. Conducting honours are shared between Ian Porthouse, the band's artistic director, and Martyn Brabbins (who conducts The Truth from Above, Prelude on Rosymedre and Variations for Brass Band).

Whilst Britain's brass band tradition stretches back to the 19th century (the history of Tredegar Town Band can be traced to 1849), it took time for British composers to routinely write for the genre. Elgar and Holst were amongst the composers who wrote test pieces for the National Brass Band Championships between the two wars and Holst's 1928 contribution, A Moorside Suite, is arguably the first masterpiece for the medium. 

Monday, 26 September 2022

Its most significant community undertaking yet: The Cumnock Tryst's A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields presents its first public performances this week

Coalfields (Photo Alex Douglas)
(Photo Alex Douglas)
Just over 10 years ago Sir James MacMillan founded The Cumnock Tryst, a four-day music festival in Cumnock, Ayrshire each October, with a commitment to building local pride, musical opportunities, profile for the region and with a significant commitment to community engagement. 

The composer grew up in Cumnock, in the heart of mining country and this legacy both rich and challenging continues to influence the communities in the area; Cumnock for all its problems needs to be in the spotlight for the many things, musical, cultural, social and spiritual that are being pursued in Ayrshire with increasing energy and vision.

Community projects and community engagement plays a big role in the festival's ongoing work, and the most significant such undertaking yet is A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields, a project delivering huge positive impact to the lives of those living in the area. The project is part of The Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership for which East Ayrshire Council raised £2,220,500 through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The partnership is made up of 22 projects, all working to benefit the people and the area, and The Cumnock Tryst was awarded a major grant to work with local communities to create a musical celebration of their own heritage, culture and environment.

The 2013 collapse of the open cast coaling industry changed the lives of those that depended on it and left behind an ugly, unsafe, and inaccessible landscape. The Coalfields Community Landscape Partnership has initiated a project for the regeneration of the coalfields area from a cultural, physical, social, and historical point of view, and A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields is The Cumnock Tryst’s way of leading the cultural regeneration of the coalfields. 

Originally conceived as a two-year long creative project with community groups, music organisations and young people from across the area A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields immediately hit challenges as Covid-19 changed the ways in which those involved could all interact, gather and create together. The route became online for that period, resulting through a series of star-studded local workshops in a beautiful film – The Moss and the Cosmos (available from the festival website)

A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields involves around 15 local community groups across Cumnock and the Doon Valley who are at the heart of every part of writing, composing, producing and performing their stories. In the first real life iteration of the work in development, A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields brings together local music groups Strings N Things and the Cumnock Area Musical Production Society for a presentation of music they have created themselves with composers Ailie Robertson and Findlay Napier on Saturday 1 October 2022 at the Cumnock Town Hall [full details from the festival website]. Pupils of Hillside School also get in on the action on Friday 30 September 2022, joining a quartet of singers and composers James MacMillan and Matilda Brown, to perform a programme of music they have created in Blue Sky Counterpoint, a collaboration with Drake Music Scotland, Scotland’s leading organisation providing music-making opportunities for children and adults with disabilities [full details from the festival website]

This is only a taste, and the 2023 edition of The Cumnock Tryst will feature a larger project when James MacMillan will work with ten community groups across Cumnock and Doon Valley to help them create a piece of music reflecting their own response to their landscape, social history, community, people, and place. The music they compose will be a major highlight of the 2023 edition of The Cumnock Tryst when it will be performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra alongside musicians from across the area. 

James MacMillan commented "A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields is one of the most exciting projects that The Cumnock Tryst has taken on. It came about through discussions with our colleagues at East Ayrshire Council and the support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It has enabled The Cumnock Tryst to work closely with a number of community groups in the East Ayrshire area, especially around Cumnock and New Cumnock, right at the heart of what was the coalfields area of East Ayrshire. Some of these groups are musical groups, but some are not. Some are school groups. Although the pandemic curtailed some of our plans, the 2023 edition will see the culmination of much of this work in a very special way, almost like a kind of auditorio of the different elements all coming to fruition."  

Edward Gardner & the LPO's Autumn season opened in spectacular fashion with Schoenberg's Gurrelieder; composer Florence Anna Maunders was there

Schoenberg: Gurrelieder - Edward Gardner, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir, London Symphony Chorus - Royal Festival Hall (Photo: London Philharmonic Orchestra)
Schoenberg: Gurrelieder - Edward Gardner, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir, London Symphony Chorus - Royal Festival Hall (Photo: London Philharmonic Orchestra)

Arnold Schoenberg: Gurrelieder; David Butt Philip, Lise Lindstrom, Karen Cargill, London Philharmonic Choir, London Symphony Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 24 September 2022

A spectacular opening concert for the Autumn season as chief conductor Edward Gardner explored the rich treasures of Schoenberg's iconic late-romantic work

Arnold Schoenburg's colossal Gurrelieder formed the entirety of this spectacular opening concert of the London Philharmonic Orchestra's Autumn season at the Royal Festival Hall – a vastly ambitious cantata which, in addition to one of the largest orchestras required by any piece, calls for five soloists, a speaker, three male voice choirs and a mixed chorus. Here we had chief conductor Edward Gardner directing the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir, London Symphony Chorus, David Butt Philip, Lise Lindstrom, Karen Cargill, James Creswell, Robert Murray, and Alex Jennings. With such large forces marshalled, even the large stage of the Royal Festival Hall began to appear rather full – a capacity matched by the audience.

Handel the Cosmopolitan: tenor James Way introduces The Assembled Company's new programme as part of HP Futures at St Martin-in-the-Fields

As part of HP Futures, a concert series in collaboration with St Martin-in-the-Fields and artist management company Harrison Parrott, the Assembled Company, artistic director James Way, is presenting Handel the Cosmopolitan at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 8 October 2022, with Rachel Podger (violin), Rowan Pierce (soprano) and James Way (tenor) in a programme that combines Handel's Nine German Arias and his cantata Caro autor di mia doglia. Here James Way introduces the programme.

The programme started out with a desire to promote the wonderful music of Handel’s Nine German Arias. One of the most common comments about this work is that it’s one of the few things Handel wrote in his native tongue. But what happens if we remove that single feature and present the Arias in a new English translation?

Having recently performed Schubert's Winterreise and Wolf's Italian Song Book in translations by Jeremy Sams, I had begun to enjoy the new perspective that performing English translations brings. This reframing of well-known pieces allows regular audiences to hear a familiar work in a new way, it often invites new audiences in and, last but by no means least, forces the performers to reconsider their interpretations.

For this concert the Nine German Arias are also split between tenor and soprano, instead of chopping them up with instrumental music, as is often done. This change of voice between movements lends a new, almost conversational nature to the piece.

The second half takes us to Handel in another, and this time unchanged, language — Italian.

Some of his lesser performed duet cantatas will be familiar to some because they contain musical material later repurposed for the Messiah. Fantastic works in their own rights and often performed by two sopranos, on this occasion we present them for soprano and tenor.

These are followed by his cantata Caro autor di mia doglia HWV182a, a remarkable piece written during Handel’s first stay in Italy, which epitomises so much of the the style we associate with Handel’s Italian works: intertwining voices often wrought with thinly veiled heartbreak and intense emotion.

The Assembled Company are a group of musicians brought together by James Way whose goal of producing vivid and creative performances is underpinned by the spirit of collaboration.

Handel the Cosmopolitan - Saturday 8 October 2022, 7.30pm, St Martin-in-the-Fields - Rachel Podger (violin), Rowan Pierce (soprano), James Way (director/tenor), The Assembled Company - further details from the church's website 

Saturday, 24 September 2022

From low comedy and satire to subtlety and sophistication: conductor John Andrews chats about Lampe's The Dragon of Wantley, Gilbert & Sullivan and more

Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - recording sessions, John Andrews (Photo Matthew Johnson)
Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - recording sessions, John Andrews (Photo Matthew Johnson)

The conductor John Andrews has had rather a Gilbert and Sullivan Summer. He conducted The Yeomen of the Guard at The Grange Festival, The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe and Utopia Ltd for the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company in Buxton, and The Mikado for Charles Court Opera in Harrogate. And on disc, John's Sullivan without Gilbert explorations continue with the release of Sullivan's 1864 ballet, L'Île Enchantée with the BBC Concert Orchestra on Dutton Epoch. Also on disc, John has recorded a work that he sees as being, in many ways, a precursor to the Savoy Opera, John Frederick Lampe's Handelian parody, The Dragon of Wantley, on Resonus Classics with the Brook Street Band, Mary Bevan, Catherine Carby, Mark Wilde, and John Savournin [see my review].

Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Resonus Classics

Written in the 1730s, The Dragon of Wantley features finely Handelian-style music written by a composer who also played the bassoon in Handel's orchestra, allied to a crazy story that came from a 17th-century broadside ballad, about a dragon ravaging Yorkshire and it being vanquished, ultimately, by an unlikely beer-swilling hero. 

The opera is not quite unknown, but it is certainly nowhere near as popular as it deserves to be, a fact that John finds somewhat puzzling. Many musicians know about it, and he has had plenty of conversations with musicians who have performed it and have happy memories of it, but somehow performances remain largely in universities and on Summer courses, though Peter Holman toured a production in the late 1970s.

But it deserves to be more well known, and it is a highly suitable piece for modern performance, featuring a small cast and good music, allied to the crazy plot. John sees it as representing a tradition of music that we have largely forgotten. That of the English composers writing for the stage at the same time as Handel, names such as Thomas Arne. And we don't quite know where to place the music.

The Dragon of Wantley, in many ways, looks forward to both pantomime and to Gilbert & Sullivan, but the music is of the school of Handel. John points out that we have come to accept and understand Shakespeare's middle-period comedies, with their lack of belly laughs and the balance between funny and serious, but that the 18th-century English musical tradition that has this combination of funny and serious is less well understood, and some of Handel's later works such as Serse and Partenope have similar problems for modern audiences. 

Thursday, 22 September 2022

LPO opens applications for its new Conducting Fellowship

London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) has opened applications for its new Conducting Fellowship, which will develop two early-career conductors from backgrounds currently under-represented in the profession. The scheme is specifically designed to promote diversity and inclusivity in the classical music industry.

The two successful applicants will be Fellows for the 2023/24 season and be guided by the LPO’s principal conductor, Edward Gardner. They will become fully immersed in the life of the LPO, working intensively with the Orchestra over a period of 6-8 non-consecutive weeks. The LPO Conducting Fellowship will include:

  • Opportunities to conduct the orchestra in various settings including at LPO residencies, educational programmes, and ensembles of its rising talent programmes
  • Assisting opportunities and mentorship sessions with Edward Gardner
  • Full immersion into the life of the orchestra, with the aim of forming the basis of a longer-term professional relationship
There will also be the possibility of other assisting opportunities and 1-1 sessions with conductors, feed by from the orchestra's musicians, professional development opportunities and more.

Applications are open until 21 October 2022, full details from the LPO website.

New classical concert series at historic house in Cumbria

Cellist Max Beitan
Cellist Max Beitan who opens the concert series at Netherby Hall
Netherby Hall in Cumbria has its origins in a 15th century tower house, which was altered and extended in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A recent multi-million-pound restoration has seen the property transformed, creating nine luxury self-catering holiday cottages and apartments, as well as conference facilities. 

The hall is now launching a monthly series of classical music concerts starting on 23 September 2022. Each concert will take place in the Netherby's Oak Hall with the option of having a post-concert dinner in the orangery. The performances at Netherby Hall are part of the Absolute Classics concert series, where visiting musicians tour the region performing at different venues as well as inspiring the next generation through their work with schools and young people. During the concert season, the visiting musicians perform at Netherby Hall; Cochran Hall, Kirkcudbright; and Easterbrook Hall in Dumfries.

The series begins with cellist Max Beitan and pianist John Thwaites in Franck, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky & Piazzolla on September 23 followed by Oxana Shevchenko, piano, in Mozart, Brahms, & Prokofiev (October 21), Filip Pogády, violin and John Lenehan, piano (November 18); Adam Laloum, piano, Clémence de Forceville, violin, and Benedict Kloeckner, cello (December 9); Anna Fedorova, piano (January 20); Solem Quartet (February 10); and Tabea Debus, recorder and Jonathan Rees, gamba (March 17).

Full details from the Netherby Hall website.

Handel's Alessandro gets a rare revival at Bamberg's Hoffmann Theater with Junge Deutsche Philharmonie

Main auditorium at the ETA Hoffmann Theater, Bamberg
Main auditorium at the ETA Hoffmann Theater, Bamberg

As part of our recent holiday in Bavaria, we spent a few days in Bamberg and whilst the town is best known for its superb old town, there are other delights too. ETA Hoffmann lived and worked in the town, his house is now a museum, and the theatre named for him, ETA Hoffmann Theater, originated in the early 19th century theatre where he worked. Originally named the Bamberg Theatre, it opened in 1802 and was one of the first theatres to have its own permanent ensemble. ETA Hoffmann worked at the theatre from 1808 and until 1813.

On 29 September 2022, a new production of Handel's Alessandro opens at the ETA Hoffmann Theater in Bamberg. A co-production between the theatre and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, the Frankfurt-based youth orchestra made up of conservatory students up to the age of 28. The production is directed by Sybille Brolle-Pape and conducted by Gottfried von der Goltz, with a cast made up of students from music conservatoires.

Handel wrote Alessandro in 1725, basing it on a fictitious episode in the great general's life and the work featured the great castrato Senesino in the title role and the sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni as the leading ladies competing for Alessandro's interest. The opera only makes rare appearances in the theatre; London Handel Festival staged it in 2009

Full details from the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie's website, and that of the theatre

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

A new anthem by Malcolm Archer for Steel City Choristers celebrating the transcendent quality of music and its power to change lives

Steel City Choristers
Steel City Choristers

The composer Malcolm Archer has written a new piece for Sheffield's Steel City Choristers which reflects the choir's belief in the transcendent quality of music and its power to change lives, which drives their work to share the joys of choral music more widely around Sheffield. Archer's anthem When in our Music God is Glorified, a setting of a poem by Methodist minister and hymnodist Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000), will be premiered at a concert at which Steel City Choristers will be singing alongside the Sheffield Horn Quartet at St Andrew's church Psalter Lane Sheffield on Thursday 10 November 2022 as part of the St Andrew's Music Festival.

Following the premiere, Steel City Choristers will perform the piece to many of the churches around Sheffield for whom they sing Evensong and other choral services. Churches they will be singing for this term include Holy Trinity Church Millhouses, Christ Church Dore, Highfield Trinity Church, Beauchief Abbey and Mount Tabor Church Parson Cross.

Steel City Choristers is a choir of children and adults founded following the unexpected closure of Sheffield Cathedral Choir in July 2020. Members of the former cathedral choir were committed to continuing to sing together and to keeping choral music alive in the city. Out of the strength of their community came the vision to establish Steel City Choristers as a choir that sings to the standard associated with our country’s cathedrals, but which does so out and about around the city. 

Full details from the choir's website.

Looking West: celebrating RVW's 150th birthday with a new work taking key themes from his life and work

Looking West

Looking West
, a dramatic cantata for singers, actors and instrumental ensemble with music by Julian Philips and words by Rebecca Hurst, was commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary of RVW's birth. Having been premiered this Summer at the Ryedale Festival and performed at the opening of the 40th anniversary Presteigne Festival) the work is being performed in London on 12 October 2022 (RVW's birthday) at Milton Court Concert Hall. George Vass conducts the Nova Music Ensemble with soprano Rebecca Bottone, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones and actors Alexander Knox and Maddie Purefoy.

Looking West interweaves three voices the Celtic Saint Bega (a saint of the Early Middle Ages; an Irish princess who became an anchoress), Cumbrian artist Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) and a contemporary Pilgrim, who makes his way cross-country, struggling with familiar everyday issues. The work seeks to take key themes from the life and work of Vaughan Williams, especially the spiritual enrichment we can find in the natural world and the transformative power of music and art, and to ask what they mean today.  

Full details from the Barbican website.

A one-off concert by The Carnival Band celebrates the culmination of a project cataloguing 400 years of English protest songs

The Carnival Band
The Carnival Band

On Friday 23 September 2022 at Cecil Sharp, the Carnival Band will be presenting a one-off celebration of protest songs across the ages to mark the completion of the Our Subversive Voice project. Our Subversive Voice, a collaboration between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the universities of Reading and Warwick, catalogues 400 years of years of English protest songs, and the concert will feature protest songs against inequality, demands for suffrage and opposition to nuclear weapons, alongside music calling out modern-day injustices.  An exhibition displaying more information about the English protest song and context and analysis of individual songs will accompany the concert.  

 Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project has catalogued 750 English protest songs from 1600–2020. These feature in a website,, which includes the 250 most distinctive songs along with case studies and interviews with musicians (Billy Bragg, Peggy Seeger, Chumbawamba and more), academics and others.  Selecting the title of any song on the website leads to its individual page, which includes information such as the lyrics and, where possible, a recording. Case studies look at everything from what motivates writers of protest songs – structurally, socially and personally – to legendary venues and women’s protest song writing.  

UEA’s Prof John Street, the project’s lead researcher, said: "When people think of protest songs they probably think first of American music, and then perhaps of the great tradition of Irish or Scottish protest songs. We wanted to find out what things would look like – and sound like – if you focus just on England, especially given the current attention given to ideas of Englishness."  Complaints at the behaviour of the political class were as common in 1600s England as they are today. The researchers found lots of songs about religion, war and poverty, as well as a 17th-century environmentalist protest about draining the East Anglian fens. Recent songs include one protesting Amazon’s working conditions. 

Full details about the concert from the English Folk Dance & Song Society's website.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Heiner Goebbels at 70: Ensemble Modern celebrates the birthday of its close collaborator

Heiner Goebbels in 2022 (Photo: Mara Eggert)
Heiner Goebbels in 2022 (Photo: Mara Eggert)
German composer Heiner Goebbels was 70 last month and the Ensemble Modern, with which he has been a close collaborator for more than 35 years, is celebrating with performances of three of Goebbels' works in various European cities.

Goebbel's A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook (2020) is being performed at the Alte Oper Frankfurt as part of the FRATOPIA festival (14/9/2022) and at Vienna's Volkstheater as part of Wien Modern (19/11/2022). The work is an evening-length cycle, a large-scale work developed in collaboration with Ensemble Modern which is acoustic “life diary” featuring sounds from all genres and voices from all over the world.

Ensemble Modern will also be returning to Goebbel's first music theatre piece, Schwarz auf Weiß (1995/96), at the Festival Musica at the Théâtre du Maillon in Strasbourg (23 & 24/9/2022) and at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt (4,5 & 6/11/2022). This latter is the location where the work was first performed. The work was tailored to the Ensemble Modern. The ensemble itself is the protagonist, the musicians are the actors; tennis balls land on a gran cassa drum, sounds of a koto are heard, a kettle whistles along with a complex flute melody. Scenes and events continuously flow into one another.

Goebbel's latest work, Liberté d’action (2021) is a staged concert, a contest between the performer David Bennent and Ensemble Modern’s pianists. The work focuses on the oeuvre of a maladjusted maverick and outsider: Henri Michaux, an outstanding painter and also a highly modern poet. It was premiered at the Kunstfestspiele Herrenhausen in 2021 and will be revived on at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome (25/9/2022), at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (28/9/2022) and in Cluj, Romania (27/11/2022)

Sarong Song

Sarong Song is the second song of The Soul Fox, a song cycle composed in 2013 by American composer Lori Laitman to a poem by David Mason, her frequent collaborator. The cycle set Mason’s autobiographical poems to create a narrative about the upheaval in Dave’s life as his second marriage dissolved. This song seizes on the moment Dave from Colorado met Chrissy from Tasmania — and her mesmerizing effect on him, which later resulted in their marriage and move to Tasmania.

Here, in a film from Positive Note, a performance of Laitman’s music by mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and pianist Simon Lepper alternates with slow animation created from illustrator Ian Beck's custom watercolours, all directed Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood to create a film that mixes classical song, poetry, and original art. 

See the video on YouTube.

Bruckner explorations at St Florian's Abbey and beyond: Remy Ballot, Altomonte Festival Orchestra & Klangkollectiv Wien

Remy Ballot & Klangkollectiv Wien
Remy Ballot & Klangkollectiv Wien

Now, I don't really write very much about the music of Anton Bruckner, but news of a new Bruckner symphony cycle and a relatively new Viennese orchestra has me intrigued. Around 20 years ago, a French violinist, Remy Ballot, having graduated from the Paris Conservatoire, went to Vienna and started playing regularly with the first violins of the Vienna Philharmonic. He also started taking private lessons with Celibidache.

Ten years ago, Remy Ballot became the principal conductor of the Altomonte Festival Orchestra at St Florian 's Abbey. Bruckner was a choirboy at the abbey and would be organist there for ten years, but his association with it was very long and he was also buried there. The orchestra, which was founded in 1996, has a strong association with the Brucknertage, the annual Bruckner festival at St Florian's.

Ballot has started to achieve something like cult status with Brucknerians and his concerts at St Florian's are highly popular. Luckily, Ballot and the orchestra have been recording Bruckner's symphonies live at the abbey (as part of the Brucknertage festival), released on the Gramola label and in 2024 Gramola will be issued a boxed set of the complete Bruckner symphonies recorded by Ballot and the Altamonte Orchestra at St Florian's. The only other complete cycle recorded at the abbey is that of Valery Gergiev.

In 2018, a group of Viennese musicians decided to set up a new orchestra, dedicated entirely to the repertoire of the first Viennese School, also using Viennese instruments - Klangkollektiv Wien. Remy Ballot became their chief conductor, and having released recordings of Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn (also on Gramola), they have a recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 1 in the pipeline.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt with Stuart Hancock's music live in concert, in aid of the Royal British Legion

In 2016, composer Stuart Hancock wrote the score for the animated film, We're Going on a Bear Hunt, based on the Michael Rosen/Helen Oxenbury children's book of the same name, and the score went on to win two major awards in 2017 (Best Short Film Score at both the Jerry Goldsmith Awards and the Music+Sound Awards). Now there is a chance to hear the music live, as Hancock is conducting an orchestra of Army musicians (the Band of the Welsh Guards and the Countess of Wessex's String Orchestra) in screenings of the film with live music at Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, W1C 2DJ on 5 November (there are three performances).

Whilst Hancock is best known as a composer for film and TV, I chatted to him in 2020 about Raptures, a disc of his concert music released on Orchid Classics [see my interview]. 

The film follows the intrepid adventures of siblings Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max, the baby and their pet dog Rufus, who decide one day to go on an adventure through the countryside in search of bears. On 5 November, Hancock will be presenting the event from the podium, and this family show will include a fun guide to the musicians in the orchestra and the tunes in the music score to listen out for, as well as singalongs to George Ezra's charming title song Me and You.

All profits from the performances will benefit the Royal British Legion, providing financial, social and emotional support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces, their families and dependants.

Further details from the Facebook page, and tickets from EventBrite.

Sunday, 18 September 2022

A rare appearance in London, but a welcome one to be sure: Offenbach's La Princesse de Trébizonde from Opera Rara

Jacques Offenbach: La Princesse de Trébizonde - Paul Daniel, Anne-Catherine Gillet, Antoinette Dennefeld, Katia Ledoux, Chirstophe Mortagne & Christope Gay - London Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Rara (Photo Russell Duncan)
Jacques Offenbach: La Princesse de Trébizonde - Paul Daniel, Anne-Catherine Gillet, Antoinette Dennefeld, Katia Ledoux, Chirstophe Mortagne & Christope Gay - London Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Rara (Photo Russell Duncan)

Jacques Offenbach: La Princesse de Trébizonde; Anne-Catherine Gillet, Virginie Verrez, Christophe Gay, Antoinette Dennefeld, Josh Lovell, Katia Ledoux, Christophe Mortagne, Loïc Félix, Harriet Walter, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Daniel; Opera Rara at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 16 September 2022

Florence Anna Maunders enjoys a sparkling revival of Offenbach's late operetta with a Francophone cast

Offenbach's operetta La Princesse de Trébizonde is a relatively rare visitor to UK theatres. It was revived last year by New Sussex Opera [see Robert's review] and now a new edition from Opera Rara has prompted a recording and a concert performance with Paul Daniel conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) with Anne-Catherine Gillet, Virginie Verrez, Christophe Gay, and Antoinette Dennefeld at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 16 September 2022 may hopefully change all that.

It surely is a shame that, outside Orpheé and Hoffmann, the operettas of Jacques Offenbach are rarely performed in the UK. Any listener possessing a passing familiarity with the ever-popular output of Victorian stalwarts Gilbert & Sullivan would immediately recognise that Offenbach's works are cut from the same cloth, although perhaps with rather more champagne sparkle and Parisian dazzle. In Opera Rara's dashing new performance edition of La Princesse de Trébizonde (using the Offenbach Edition Keck from Boosey & Hawkes), stripping away all the dialogue between the musical numbers (replaced with a hilarious English narration) made the work even lighter on its feet. The evening-length three acts of the 1869 original were condensed into just over ninety minutes without an interval and presented with such joyous energy that it felt like half that time.

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