Monday, 24 January 2022

Youthful opportunity: young people creating with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and NMC Recordings

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is looking for two aspiring young musicians to join its BSO Young Associates programme, the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) has just announced the 2022 cohort for its Fellowship programme, whilst the composers from NYCGB's 2021 Young Composer Scheme have had the results of their labours issued on disc by NMC.

BSO Young Associates

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is launching its BSO Young Associates, a nine-month scheme designed to boost the careers of two aspiring music leaders keen to inspire people of all ages. 

At the last count, it was reported that people who identify as disabled, or who are from Black, Asian or Ethnically Diverse backgrounds, accounted for just 7% and 13% of those working in the UK’s creative industries respectively - alongside this, despite representing just under one-third of the UK’s national workforce, those from working class backgrounds accounted for just 16% of those working in the creative sector.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has created its BSO Young Associates programme as a direct response, raising funds through the Big Give Christmas Challenge to help support two aspiring musicians who might not otherwise have the opportunity to undertake an internship or placement to launch a career in the arts. Further details from the orchestra's website.

NMC - YOung COmposer 3
Four young composers, Kristina Arakelyan, Anna Disley-Simpson, Alexander Ho, and Derri Joseph Lewis, took part in the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain's Young Composers Scheme 2021 which involved workshops with both the National Youth Choir and the Fellowship ensembles, and masterclasses with well-established composers. 

The results are a range of personal, imaginative, and forward-facing choral music, and a disc of these compositions Young Composers 3 is being issued by NMC Recordings. The disc features nine works by the four composers performed by National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and explores a broad range of themes including coming out as LGBTQ+, the natural environment, racial identity, love, and connection. 

Full details from the NMC website and you can sample Alexander Ho's Hush on Soundcloud.

NYCGB Fellows 2022, Tim Peters, Olivia Shotton, Jason Ching, Florence Price
NYCGB Fellows 2022
Tim Peters, Olivia Shotton, Jason Ching, Florence Price

The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) have also announced the latest cohort in its Fellowship Programme. Four new Fellows, Jason Ching, 23 from Durham, Tim Peters, 26 from Guildford, Florence Price 23, from London, and Olivia Shotton, 27 from London are welcomed to the programme which offers emerging professional musicians from a diverse range of backgrounds and musical genres, a fully funded year of unique development opportunities. 

The NYCGB Fellowship programme has been running for six years and many of its graduates have already made impressive starts to their careers. This includes graduates of the programme performing professionally with The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen, I Fagiolini, Tenebrae, Philharmonia Voices, Dundein Consort, Ex Cathedra, London Voices, Stile Antico, and St Martins Voices. 

Fellowship alumni are now also working as choral leaders professionally with National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, London Youth Choirs, Barnsley Youth Choir, National Children’s Choir, Rodolfus Foundation, plus many other music and educational organisations. 

The Fellowship are an ensemble who perform at high- profile venues including, recently, the Royal Albert Hall, Saffron Hall, Royal Concert Hall Nottingham, and the VOCES8 Centre. Latest performance highlights include BBC Proms, London Handel Festival and Live From London Christmas. 

Further details from the NYCGB website.

Decadence and refinement: Karina Canellakis conducts Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy with the London Philharmonic Orchestra

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Karina Canellakis at Royal Festival Hall (photo Benjamin Ealovega)
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Karina Canellakis at Royal Festival Hall (photo Benjamin Ealovega)

Boulanger, Wagner, Scriabin; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Karina Canellakis; Royal Festival Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 January 2022 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A short but intense programme that ended with a performance of Scriabin's outrageous outpouring that drew transparent textures and emotional strength from the orchestra

Under the title Poems of Ecstasy the London Philharmonic Orchestra and their principal guest conductor Karina Canellakis planned a programme at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 22 January 2022 that moved from Wagner's Prelude & Liebestod (from Tristan und Isolde) to three late Romantic works that took Wagner's ideas and ran with them, in somewhat different directions, Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, Lili Boulanger's D'un soir triste and Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy (Symphony No. 4). In the event, pianist Cedric Tiberghian was ill and could not be replaced so the Ravel concerto was dropped from the programme. I know that we should not measure music-making by the yard, but this very much felt like a failure of imagination, leaving us with a programme of two short halves. In the event the performance of Scriabin's outrageous orchestral outpouring was so terrific that the evening was remarkably satisfying.

The revised concert programme began with Lili Boulanger. Her piece is late, written 1918 (the year of her death) and it exists in three different versions. In orchestral guise there was there was rich sonority and luscious harmony, but there was refinement too. There were intense moments and evocative moments, a real late romantic melange, yet throughout a refined sensibility with Canellakis drawing a fluid transparency form the large orchestra.

Winter Opera St Louis educates as it entertains

Gilbert & Sullivan: The Gondoliers - Winter Opera St Louis
Gilbert & Sullivan: The Gondoliers - Winter Opera St Louis

In the UK, if we know the American city of St Louis for opera it is via Opera Theater of St Louis (OTSL) which does a Summer season each year and is routinely reviewed in national and international press. But there are other companies in the area too. Recently, British-Italian conductor Dario Salvi [most recently mentioned in these pages for conducting Meyerbeer's first opera Jephtas Gelübde, see my review] conducted Winter Opera St Louis in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers in Kirkwood, Missouri. In a guest posting Gary Scott, a reviewer based in St Louis, introduces the company and its devotion to operetta.

During a seminar discussion of pedagogical methods years ago at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA, Professor Lewis Hilton--a Canadian by birth and a specialist in ethnomusicology as well as education, thus bringing a wider perspective to the issues--asked the question, "Who is the real music educator in our society today?"  Without actually pausing for responses, Dr. Hilton quickly opined that, overall, people of all ages probably gather the bulk of their musical knowledge not from formalized instruction, but from radio disc jockeys.  

Hilton's statement, perhaps intended more for drama and shock thinking rather than an outright assertion, did serve the purpose of making his listeners ponder more deeply.  Contrary to what is generally assumed, the United States spends an enormous amount on education, which includes instruction in music and visual arts at all levels, as do many other countries.  And yet, one might question just how much the average citizen knows about music history, development of styles and performance practices, the development of instruments, and so forth.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

Pure joy: ECHO Rising Star recorder player Lucie Horsch & lutenist Thomas Dunford in music old & new

Thomas Dunford & Lucie Horsch (image from Lucie Horsch's Instagram feed)
Thomas Dunford & Lucie Horsch (image from Lucie Horsch's Instagram feed)

ECHO Rising Stars
; Lucie Horsch, Thomas Dunford; LSO St Luke's

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 January 2022 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Technical facility and great charm from recorder player Lucie Horsch and lutenist Thomas Dunford in a programme of old and new music performed with understated aplomb

Each year the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) nominates a group of Rising Stars, and the selected young artists are offered the opportunity to present a programme of their own choosing, across venues across the ECHO network. One of this year's ECHO Rising Stars is Dutch recorder player Lucie Horsch. On Friday 21 January 2022, at LSO St Lukes (presented by the BarbicanLucie Horsch (recorders) and Thomas Dunford (lute) performed a programme that mixed Baroque music with contemporary works including pieces by Dario Castello, Igor Stravinsky, John Dowland, Francois Couperin, Bach, Lotta Wennäkoski, Francesca Caccini, Isang Yun, Anne Danican Philior and Marin Marais, as part of Horsch's ECHO Rising Stars tour.

We began in 17th century Venice with the Sonata seconda by Dario Castello (1602 - 1631), an instrumentalist and composer who worked with Monteverdi. A series of short movements, moving between fast and slow, with plenty of lively, florid writing and playing that was full of character and charm. Then some Stravinsky. Stravinsky on the recorder, why ever not? Horsch played her own arrangement of the third of Stravinsky's Three pieces for solo clarinet from 1919, busy and spiky with a strong sense of forward momentum. We then moved to Tudor England for John Dowland's Flow my tears, elegantly expressive with lovely phrasing from Horsch and a great sense of partnership between the two performers.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Beyond Miss Julie: Joseph Phibbs on his opera Juliana setting Laurie Slade's updating of Strindberg

Joseph Phibbs: Juliana - Samuel Pantcheff, Cheryl Enever in 2018 (Photo Laurie Slade)
Joseph Phibbs: Juliana - Samuel Pantcheff, Cheryl Enever at the premiere in 2018 (Photo Laurie Slade)

Joseph Phibbs
' opera Juliana, with a libretto by Laurie Slade, was a joint commission from Nova Music Opera, the Cheltenham Festival and the Presteigne Festival in 2018 and was premiered by George Vass and Nova Music Opera Ensemble at the Cheltenham Festival. Vass and Nova Music Opera Ensemble have now recorded the opera for Resonus Classics with soloists Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Felix Kemp, and Zoe Drummond. The opera, a modern interpretation of August Strindberg's play, Miss Julie, is Joseph Phibbs' first opera. I recently met up with him to chat about Strindberg, Miss Julie, and creating opera.

Joseph Phibbs (Photo Malcolm Crowther)
Joseph Phibbs (Photo Malcolm Crowther)
One of the reasons for choosing Strindberg's Miss Julie as the source for the opera was that many aspects of the play chimed in with the commission - three singers and a small instrumental ensemble and a duration of around 60 to 90 minutes in one act. Whilst looking for ideas, Joseph had read Miss Julie but found nothing particularly suggestive about the play until he chatted to Laurie Slade who suggested updating the story to the present day. This brought a new idea for the opera, creating an intense piece with three characters (so no compromises required), with a simple set, a single act and a single staging. The updated story combined interesting character development with practicality, and the advantage that the original is out of copyright! Laurie Slade has worked on other updated versions of Strindberg plays, most recently doing a new version of The Father [see Michael Billington's review in The Guardian], so Strindberg was fresh in his mind. 

Miss Julie has formed the source for previous operas including ones by William Alwyn (1905-1985) and Ned Rorem (born 1923). Though Joseph was aware of these earlier operas, he never heard them until after he had written Juliana. But there again, so many subjects have been done before, and Joseph feels that the updating of the story provides a new angle. Laurie Slade wrote the text from scratch. The setting is still Sweden, but the characters names have been changed and the aristocratic setting has been replaced by the house of a wealthy CEO with a daughter, Juliana, who is damaged and goes wrong by transgressing boundaries. She has a relationship with one of the servants, Juan, and both she and Juan are damaged individuals, both with different expectations, and this precipitates her suicide.

Friday, 21 January 2022

Keyboard concertos by Haydn and Mozart from Pawel Siwczak & the Bach Club Soloists

Bach Club Soloists

Haydn's keyboard concertos do not get anything like the exposure that Mozart's do. This is partly because the list of Haydn's concertos is rather tricky, only a few are regarded as genuine, but also because after the 1780s he stopped writing them. Some commentators see this as a response to his hearing Mozart's mature piano concertos and deciding to take a step back from the genre. Haydn had a great admiration for his younger colleague's music and in a letter of 1787 said:

‘If I could only impress on the soul of every friend of music, and on high personages in particular, how inimitable are Mozart’s works, how profound, how musically intelligent, how extraordinarily sensitive! … It enrages me to think that this incomparable Mozart is not yet engaged in some imperial or royal court! Forgive me if I lose my head. But I love this man so dearly.’ 

There is a chance to hear concertos by both composers side by side when Pawel Siwczak directs the Bach Club Soloists in Haydn's Concerto for keyboard and orchestra no 11 in D Major, Hob XVIII/11 (from 1780-1783) and Mozart's Concerto for fortepiano and orchestra no 9 in E flat K 271 "Jenamy" (from 1777) at St Mary's Church, Putney, SW15 1SN on 19 February 2022.

The Bach Club, creative director Pawel Siwczak, is a boutique label, concerts curator and masterclass creator, and home to the Bach Club Soloists. Performers at the 19 February concert include Catherine Martin violin, Leo Duarte oboe, Ursula Paludan Monberg horn, Jonny Byers cello, and Carina Cosgrave violone

Full details from the Bach Club's website.

Remembering Rafael Rojas

Earlier this week it was announced that tenor Rafael Rojas (1963-2022) had sadly died. Rojas had links with a number of British opera companies including Opera Holland Park and Opera North. In tribute to him, Opera North reposted this delightful video on YouTube of Rojas and the ladies of the chorus of Opera North in a surprise performance of 'Nessun Dorma' from Puccini's Turandot given to the shoppers at Trinity Leeds.

Opera scenes from the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio with the orchestra of English National Opera at Cadogan Hall

Young Artists of National Opera Studio, orchestra of English National Opera, Olivia Clarke at Cadogan Hall (Photo Nick Rutter)
Young Artists of National Opera Studio, orchestra of English National Opera, Olivia Clarke at Cadogan Hall (Photo Nick Rutter)

Opera scenes; National Opera Studio, orchestra of English National Orchestra, dir: Amy Lane, cond: Olivia Clarke; Cadogan Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 January 2022
Seventeen young artists in a vivid series of opera scenes, in a terrific evening that was all about what can be achieved together

Each year, the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio (NOS) do a series of projects with the various national opera companies in the UK. And on Wednesday 19 January 2021, NOS brought the fruits of the Young Artists work with director Amy Lane and the orchestra of English National Opera to Cadogan Hall. Conducted by Olivia Clarke, English National Opera's current Mackerras Fellow, seventeen singers performed staged scenes from Verdi's Rigoletto, Rossini's La cenerentola, Jonathan Dove's Flight, Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, Massenet's Werther, Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles, Donizetti's La fille du regiment, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Handel's Orlando, Bizet's Carmen, Britten's Albert Herring, Massenet's Cendrillon and Verdi's Falstaff.

The singers were the 2021/22 Young Artists - sopranos Alexandra Chernenko, Ffion Edwards, Inna Husieva, Laura Lolita Peresivana, mezzo-sopranos Sian Griffiths, Joanna Harries, Shakira Tsindos, counter-tenor Logan Lopez Gonzalez, tenor Monwabisi Lindi, baritones Josef Ahn, Kamohelo Tsotetsi - and the 2021/22 Associate Artists - mezzo-sopranos Arlene Belli, Judith Le Breuilly, tenor Philip Clieve, baritones Jolyon Loy, Jevan McAuley, bass Thomas D Hopkinson.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

In search of Bach's Cello Suites

Robert Max (Photo Claude Darmon)
Robert Max (Photo Claude Darmon)

On Sunday 30 January 2022, Robert Max is performing all of Bach's Cello Suites at Conway Hall as part of the Sunday Concerts series. Max enjoys a varied career as a solo cellist, conductor (of the Oxford Symphony Orchestra), chamber musician (as a member of the Barbican Piano Trio) and orchestral cellist (as principal cello of the London Chamber Orchestra), and he has taught at the Royal Academy of Music's Junior Academy since 1992. He is touring the UK playing the complete Suites, and this will be a wonderful chance to experience a lifetime's distillation of these seminal works.

Before the concert, I will be giving a talk entitled, In search of Bach's Cello Suites, filling in the background to the works and looking at what we do and don't know about them.

Full details from the Conway Hall website.

Honouring three revolutionary icons: Ensemble Offspring's Elegy celebrates the music of Louis Andriessen, Frederic Rzewski and Ian Shanahan

Ensemble Offspring's Elegy - Benjamin Kop, Christopher Pidcock
Ensemble Offspring's Elegy - Benjamin Kop, Christopher Pidcock

Last year, I reviewed a terrific disc from the long-established Sydney-based contemporary music group, Ensemble Offspring featuring three commissions by Australian composers [see my review]. There is currently an opportunity to enjoy the group's work online as part of its digital initiative, Offspring for All

Their forthcoming online event, Elegy, debuts on 4 February on YouTube (at 8pm AEDT, which works out to be 9am, 5 February in the UK) and then available on demand on the ensemble's website. The concert honours three iconic composers who all died in 2021, Louis Andriessen (1939-2021), Frederic Rzweski (1938-2021) and Ian Shanahan (1962-2021). Each composer was, in his way, revolutionary and the concert showcases music written in the 1970s and 1980s (with one exception).

They open Andriessen’s reflective and romantic Elegy (1975) for cello (Christopher Pidcock) and piano (Benjamin Kop), followed by the 2017 piano solo Rimsky or La Monte Young which reveals the composer’s sense of humour. Then comes Rzewski’s epic jazz-inspired quartet for flute, bass-clarinet, double bass and vibraphone Song and Dance (1977), followed by percussionist Claire Edwardes – equipped with simple clay flower pots – in Rzewski’s spiritualistic homage To The Earth for percussion solo. Jason Noble (clarinets) pays tribute to the late Australian icon Ian Shanahan with Pastels (1982) for clarinet solo, and is joined by Edwardes (percussion) to close the concert with Shanahan’s Echoes/Fantasies (1984). Full details of the concert from Ensemble Offspring's website.

Elegy is the ensemble's third digital offering and it is well worthwhile exploring the previous ones. Blue Silence features Jason Noble (bass clarinet), Claire Edwardes (percussion) and Emily Granger (harp) in a programme that features recent pieces by Nathan Daughtrey (USA), Caleb Burhans (USA), and Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson (Iceland) alongside works by Australian composers. Tristan Coelho's In transit was written for his partner, harpist Emily Granger; Gerard Brophy's new duet for bass clarinet and marimba, Just outside Van, is inspired by Turkey’s eastern coastal city of Van; Elena Kats-Chernin's Blue Silence features a version for trio of a work originally written for cello and piano (2006). Ensemble Offspring's Blue Silence event is available on YouTube.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Armonico Consort celebrates its 20th anniversary with performances of new editions of music by the other Scarlatti, Francesco

Armonico Consort & Baroque Players
Armonico Consort & Baroque Players
Hands up all those who are familiar with the music of Francesco Scarlatti. Brother of Alessandro, uncle to Domenico, Francesco has rather disappeared into the maw of history. Born in 1685 he came to London in 1719, though not much music survives from this period and by 1724 he was in Dublin. 

Francesco's music helped to launch the Armonico Consort 20 years, with performances at Wigmore Hall and abroad. Now the ensemble is celebrating its 20th birthday by performing two of Francesco's sacred works in new editions by Dr Geoffrey Webber.  At Warwick Collegiate Church (29 January 2022) and Malvern Theatre (5 February 2022), Armonico Consort & Baroque Players, director Christopher Monks, will be performing Francesco Scarlatti's Dixit Dominus (from 1702) and Messe a 16 (from 1703) as part of a programme that includes violin concertos by Bach and Vivaldi with violinist Rachel Podger. 

Before the concerts Dr Webber will be giving a talk about Francesco Scarlatti and his wider family, where both male and female members of the family were working as musicians, often with colourful personal lives. 

And for those interested in the later Francesco Scarlatti, in 2002 a group of 12 sonatas by him were found written in one of the work-books of Newcastle composer Charles Avison (1709-1770). 

Full details from the Armonico Consort website.

Beauty and bleakness: Douglas Knehans' Cloud Ossuary from Brno Philharmonic Orchestra and Mikel Toms

Douglas Knehans Mist Wave, Cloud Ossuary; Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, Mikel Toms, Pavel Wallinger, Judith Weusten; Ablaze Records

Douglas Knehans Mist Wave, Cloud Ossuary; Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, Mikel Toms, Pavel Wallinger, Judith Weusten; Ablaze Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 January 2022 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A requiem for our times, Katharina Knehans bleak poetry in an intense new setting by her Australian/American composer father

This new disc from Ablaze Records features two works by the Australian/American composer Douglas Knehans, Mist Waves for solo violin and strings, and Cloud Ossuary: Symphony No. 4, recorded by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Mikel Toms, with Pavel Wallinger, violin, and Judith Weusten, soprano.

Mist Waves was originally written for violin and piano, and premiered in that form by violinist Madeleine Mitchell and pianist Michael Delfin. This version for violin and strings was created for the recording and for Pavel Wallinger (who is concert-master of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra). Knehans describes it as a 'loose chaconne' and the first eight bars form the basis for the whole work. The result is slow and thoughtful, with Wallinger's rather aetherial violin hovering over the darker, lower textures of the strings. The way Knehans repeats his material, but never the same each time, gives the work a contemplative, timeless quality. He describes the work as being about land-based clouds, but rather than being purely descriptive, the piece is much more metaphorical.

Cloud Ossuary began as a setting of a poem by Knehans' daughter, Katarina Knehans. The setting of the poem, Bones and All, forms the final movement of the symphony with the other two movements created subsequently. All three movements, The Ossein Cage, Breathe Cloud and Bones and All are based on the same material though with very different results. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Carnet de voyages: exploring the music of Simon Bertrand

Simon Bertrand (photo Jean Vailhe)
Simon Bertrand (photo Jean Vailhe)
The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) is continuing its concert series devoted to portraits of Quebec composers, and that these concerts are available online means that we can explore in the comfort of our own homes. SMCQ's concert on Sunday 30 January 2022 is a particular chance to explore as Carnet de voyages is dedicated to the music of Simon Bertrand, a composer who has traveled much.

Trained originally as a multi-instrumentalist at the Montreal Conservatoire, Simon Bertrand decided to dedicate himself to composition after experiencing a workshop with Henri Dutilleux. Since then, Bertrand has had periods of residence in Japan (where he wrote almost exclusively for traditional Japanese instruments) and in Denmark, in total spending more than 15 years away from his native land.

This is reflected in his music and the programme for Carnet de voyages will include music written in Japan as well as a world premiere, Blues de Saint-Adolphe for two clarinets, a viola concerto as well as inspirations from rock, pop and jazz. Samy Moussa conducts Ensemble de la SMCQ, with Trio Fibonacci, Virginie Mongeau, soprano, Brian Bacon, viola, Louise Bessette, piano, Annabelle Renzo, harp, Josée Poirier, flute, Claire Marchand, flute, Simon Bertrand and Jean-Guy Boisvert, clarinet. 

Full details from SMCQ's website.

Comedy with violence: a chance to stream the German premiere of the original French version of Donizetti's Deux Hommes et une Femme

Donizetti's Rita (or Deux Hommes et une Femme) from Berliner Operngruppe on CuteTV

Donizetti's Rita (or Deux Hommes et une Femme) is a somewhat problematic work, essentially it is a delightful comedy featuring a spousal violence. Written, in French, in the 1840s the work dates from the period when Donizetti was working on the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor for Paris and uses the same librettist. But the work remained unperformed until the 1860s (well after Donizetti's death) and became known in an an Italian version which made significant changes to the work. Opera Rara restored the original French and went back to Donizetti's manuscript for their 2014 recording [see my review]. The work occasionally pops up on stages, after all a comedy from Donizetti's mature period is quite a draw, and directors approach the challenges of the plot in a variety of ways.

In September 2021, the Berliner Operngruppe gave the German premiere of this original French version of Donizetti's Deux Hommes et une Femme at the Konzerthaus, Berlin in a production directed by Lorenzo Fioroni, conducted by Felix Krieger and starring Elbenita Kajtazi, Alasdair Kent and Pablo Ruiz.

The production was filmed and the opera is being streamed by CueTV starting tonight (18 January 2022) and available until 25 January. Full details from CueTV.

The Art of Transformation: inspired by a Scottish Border ballad Alistair White's Woad is very much an opera for our times

Alastair White Woad; Kelly Poukens, Suzy Vanderheiden; Metier

Alastair White Woad; Kelly Poukens, Suzy Vanderheiden; Metier

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 January 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A metaphysical meditation on the art of transformation, White's latest opera is a dazzling tour-de-force for just two performers

Alastair White's Woad is the third in his fashion|opera cycle [see my interview with Alastair for his thoughts othe philosophical underpinning of the cycle], following Wear and Rune. Alastair White's Woad: A Fashion - Opera, Seven Scenes from the Tale of Tam Lin is performed by soprano Kelly Poukens and saxophonist Suzy Vanderheiden on Metier.

In the medieval Scottish Borders, a young boy is bewitched – into the form of an ape, an adder, a speck of dust. But is it his shape that twists and churns, or that of the world around him? These are the questions considered by Woad. The piece is inspired by the Scottish Border ballad Tam Lin a tale as much about the idea of transformation whilst retaining one's true qualities. It is this aspect of the ballad that White has picked up on. In dramatising Tam Lin, he boils the idea of opera down to its essentials, just a voice and an instrument. Soprano Kelly Poukens does not play a particularly character, instead White's seven scenes (the libretto is his own) are a meditation on different aspects of transformation.

Monday, 17 January 2022

Celebrating Charles Burney: King's Lynn Festival's first Early Music Weekend

The Snetlzer organ case at King's Lynn Minster, installed during Charles Burney's time there as organist
The Snetlzer organ case at King's Lynn Minster,
installed during Charles Burney's time there as organist

The King's Lynn Festival has announced its first Early Music Weekend, from 1 to 3 April 2022 they will be presenting a series of concerts celebrating musicians associated with the town and with West Norfolk.

Charles Burney was organist at St Margaret’s Church (now King's Lynn Minster) in for eight years and promoted concerts in the town, and there will be a walk exploring Georgian King's Lynn and A Teatime Concert for Dr Burney where violinist Dominika Feher and harpsichordist Jack Gonzales Harding will be performing music by JS Bach, CPE Bach, Haydn and Mozart. The 17th century composer and viol player John Jenkins and his patron Sir Roger Le Strange lived in West Norfolk, and the Rose Consort of Viols will be performing music by Jenkins alongside that of Byrd, Robert Parsons, Tallis, Ferrabosco, Thomas Tomkins, Purcell and William Lawes. 

Other concerts include The Trials and Triumphs of Oriana, a programme of Elizabethan madrigals performed by sopranos Penelope Appleyard and Angela Hicks with lutenist Sam Brown and viola da gamba player Harry Buckoke, and Ibrahim Aziz, from the Rose Consort of Viols, is joined by harpsichordist Petra Hajduchov for Virtuoso Variations with music by Nicolas Hotman, Purcell, Christopher Simpson, Handel, Couperin and Marais.

Before then, one of the festival's Spring coffee concerts (on 11 March 2022) features the Passacaglia Trio in music from the Royal Court of Frederick the Great for flute, viola da gamba and harpsichord. 

Full details from the King's Lynn Festival's website.

A sense of ritual: Edward Jessen's Syllable, a work of complex musical theatre, is premiered by Trinity Laban Opera

Edward Jessen: Syllable - Claudia Hilda Rodriguez Pozo - Trinity Laban Opera (Photo John Hunter at RULER)
Edward Jessen: Syllable - Claudia Hilda Rodriguez Pozo - Trinity Laban Opera (Photo John Hunter at RULER) 

Edward Jessen Syllable; Conductor Gregory Rose, director Joseph Alford; Trinity Laban Opera at Laban Theatre

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 January 2022
Trinity Laban Opera in a brand new piece of experimental music theatre created by composer Edward Jessen from the conservatoire's music staff

Rather impressively, Edward Jessen's new music theatre piece, Syllable, is an ambitious and experimental work created in-house by Trinity Laban Opera. The work debuted on Friday 14 January 2022 and we caught the second cast, performing on Saturday 15 January 2022 at the Laban Theatre in Deptford. Composed by Edward Jessen and directed by Joseph Alford, the performance featured Claudia Hilda Rodriguez Pozo, Juliet Wallace, Miranda Ostler, Amy Kearsley, Imogen Burgess, Sholto Biscoe-Taylor and Niall Windass, with a vocal and instrumental ensemble conducted by Gregory Rose. Designs were by Molly Einchcomb, projection design by Akhila Krishnan, sound design by David Sheppard and Ian Dearden of Sound Intermedia, lighting design Malcolm Rippeth. The production also featured a recorded spoken narration created by Bastard Assignments.

Edward Jessen: Syllable - Trinity Laban Opera (Photo John Hunter at RULER)
Edward Jessen: Syllable - Trinity Laban Opera (Photo John Hunter at RULER) 

Billed as an operatic sonic work, Jessen's piece was much more a work of experimental music theatre than a conventional opera as it pushed a number of boundaries of conventional operatic story telling. As such it was much more the sort of work one might come across in a low-budget production at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival rather than in the handsome Laban Theatre at Trinity Laban, and given in an impressively thought-through and technically complex production.

Plenty to enjoy: Verdi's Nabucco returns to Covent Garden

Verdi: Nabucco - Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Liudmyla Monastyrska - Royal Opera House, 2022 (Photo Bill Cooper)
Verdi: Nabucco - Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Liudmyla Monastyrska - Royal Opera House, 2022 (Photo Bill Cooper)

Verdi Nabucco; Liudmyla Monastyrska, Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Alexander Vinogradov, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya, Najmiddin Mavlyanov, Renato Balsadonna; Royal Opera House

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 January 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Still on cracking form, Nabucco returns with a strong musical cast

It was going to feature Anna Netrebko as Abigaille with Daniel Oren conducting and cameras were to be there to capture the evening. In the event, Friday 14 January 2022's performance of Verdi's Nabucco at the Royal Opera House, featured Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille with conductor Renato Balsadonna, plus Amartuvshin Enkhbat as Nabucco, Alexander Vinogradov as Zaccaria, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya as Fenena, Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Ismaele. So that is a cast made up of one Ukrainian, one Mongolian, two Russians, and one Uzbekistani, which perhaps gives an indication of where the big Verdi voices are coming from at the moment. And we must be grateful that the performance happened at all, some performances in December had to be cancelled and on the first night the chorus sang in masks, so all credit to everyone for making this happen.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

The sense of eternity that can be found in the simple doing of something: Sven Helbig's Skills

Sven Helbig (image posted on Kickstarter in March 2021)
Sven Helbig in an image he posted on Kickstarter in March 2021

German composer and music-producer Sven Helbig and my paths have crossed several times over the years. I first came across him at the first UK performance of his Pocket Symphonies [and I also caught them in Hamburg at the 2013 Reeperbahn Festival, see my review], and most recently, in 2019, I heard the premiere of his work for cello and orchestra commissioned for the Dresden Music Festival as part of a new concerto with each movement written by a different composer, the others being Nico Muhly and Zhou Long [see my review]. In between we have managed to cross paths in various ways including my interview in 2016. Now he has a new album, Skills, that comes out next month and we met up over Zoom to chat about it.

Sven Helbig: SkillsSven's musical style is very much a product of his background, as he was born in East Germany in 1968, in Eisenhüttenstadt in the Eastern part of the DDR close to the Polish border. In our 2016 interview he talked about how in 1982 if you found a disc which you liked, a recording by Anne Sophie Mutter say, there was little opportunity to find out more information about her or the music, all you could do was ask your friends, and wait until someone came across something. He never really had a network of musical friends, so that his music came from the radio and the two channels which he could get, one classical and one the American radio station in Berlin, so that he absorbed both classical and RnB without knowing what was what. Never having seen an orchestra, he didn't know what is was, it was just a sound. It was many years before he saw an orchestra and it was some 20 years after first falling in love with the sound that he came to understand the details behind it. So Sven's music was created without the idea of musical conventions, crossing boundaries because he did not know they were there.

His new disc, Skills comes out on 22 February 2022, and in many ways it is a very personal disc. For a start the disc's subject matter has its origins in Sven's family background, whilst producing the disc this year, with few live concerts, meant trying out a new way of financing the disc using crowd-funding.

Friday, 14 January 2022

23 Strings

The composer Paul Reade (1943-1997) wrote music for film, television, the theatre and the concert hall. Whilst many will be familiar with his music for popular TV shows, his ballets including Hobson's Choice for choreographer David Bintley remain highly popular. He wrote a number of pieces for the Manchester Camerata including a flute concerto which was premiered in 1985. A 1988 performance of with flautist Philippa Davies led to composer and soloist marrying.

There is a chance to hear Philippa Davies in Paul Reade's Flute Concerto on 20 January 2021 when the ensemble 23 Strings, conductor David Cutts, performs the work at Cadogan Hall in a programme that includes Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen and music by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius.

David Cutts formed 23 Strings (the name comes from the forces required for Strauss' Metamorphosen) in 2019 to draw on the pool of extremely fine string players in the UK.

Full details from the 23 Strings website.


In stunning control of his material: Gavin Higgins' Ekstasis from Piatti Quartet, Fidelio Trio, Thomas Gould, David Cohen, Sara Roberts

Gavin Higgins Gursky Landscapes, Ruins of Detroit, Seven Welsh Folk Songs, Ekstasis; Piatti Quartet, Fidelio Trio, David Cohen, Sara Roberts; RTF Classical/Nimbus Alliance

Gavin Higgins Gursky Landscapes, Ruins of Detroit, Seven Welsh Folk Songs, Ekstasis; Piatti Quartet, Fidelio Trio, Thomas Gould, David Cohen, Sara Roberts; RTF Classical/Nimbus Alliance

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 January 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
From the eerie to the ecstatic, Gavin Higgins' recent chamber music constantly intrigues and fascinates with its combination of sophisticated instrumental writing and magical textures

This disc from RTF Classical, distributed by Nimbus Alliance, features the chamber music of Gavin Higgins, four substantial works, Gursky Landscapes for string quintet and Ekstatis for string sextet performed by the Piatti Quartet with David Cohen (cello) and Sara Roberts (viola), Seven Welsh Folksongs for solo violin performed by Thomas Gould, and Ruins of Detroit for piano trio performed by the Fidelio Trio.

Whether by accident or design, none of the pieces on the disc is completely abstract, each takes its inspiration from somewhere or something, each is in a sense a depiction or recreation in music. Both Gursky Landscapes and Ruins of Detroit are based in images that Higgins has seen, the resulting music becoming not so much a depiction of the image as Higgins' response to it. Seven Welsh Folksongs is more concrete, each of the movements is an arrangement of a folksong, whilst Ekstatis features five movements each of which evokes a different type of ecstasy. The result is a terrific disc of contemporary chamber music, and a programme which certainly has a real life of its own. There is nothing pictorial about Higgins' music and it is perhaps significant that the two photographers whose work he has been inspired by both produce images that have a significant emotional charge.

Gursky Landscapes for string quintet (David Cohen with the Piatti Quartet) is a five movement work based on five images by German photographer Andreas Gursky - 'Dolomites, Cable Car', 'Les Mées', 'Kamiokande', 'Utah', 'Kathedrale' [the links go to the images on Gursky's website, well worth exploring]

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Burghley Sessions: Eboracum Baroque explores the Earls of Exeter's music collection at Burghley House

Eboracum Baroque: Burghley Sessions
During the 17th and 18th centuries musically inclined aristocrats and gentry would compile books of favourite pieces of music. Whilst people did acquire printed music, with the most enthusiastic often subscribing to new music publications, it remained common to copy (or have copied) pieces that appealed. Sometimes such collections can bring forth gems, pieces hitherto unknown (we have both Handel and Vivaldi pieces that are known in this way), but even when the music is known there is the sense of dropping in on someone's personal preferences, very much like idly browsing over someone else's record collection.

One such collection was assembled at Burghley House in Lincolnshire by the Earls of Exeter, descended from the eldest son of William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Queen Elizabeth I's chief advisor). There is a chance to leaf through the collection, as it were, on Saturday 22 January 2022 when Eboracum Baroque present their online concert the Burghley Sessions.

Recorded in the Great Hall of Burghley House, the performance includes music from the Earls of Exeter's collection with arias by Handel, a recorder concerto by Vivaldi, a trumpet concerto by Capel Bond (an 18th century English composer based in Coventry), a sonata by Corelli and theatre music by Purcell.

Eboracum Baroque's Burghley Sessions will be streamed online via Youtube and Facebook on Saturday 22 January 2022 at 7.30pm.

Personal Stories: Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian's Welcome Party on NMIC

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian Welcome Party; Ziazan, Trish Clowes, Tim Giles, London Symphony Orchestra, Jon Hargreaves, Ausias Garrigos Morant, Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Gareth Wilson; NMIC
Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian Welcome Party; Ziazan, Trish Clowes, Tim Giles, London Symphony Orchestra, Jon Hargreaves, Ausias Garrigos Morant, Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Gareth Wilson; NMIC

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 January 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Telling a series of interconnected stories, Horrocks-Hopayian's music delights in crossing boundaries; it intrigues and delights.


The music on composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian's Welcome Party, her portrait disc on NMIC, tells a series of interconnecting stories. There are thirteen tracks performed by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (voice), Ziazan (voice), Trish Clowes (saxophone), Tim Giles (drums), London Symphony Orchestra, Jon Hargreaves (conductor), Ausias Garrigos Morant (clarinets), Choir of Girton College, Cambridge and Gareth Wilson (conductor).

The stories range from Horrocks-Hopayian's Armenian heritage, her life as a composer and a performer, her links to members of her family, her participation in the London Symphony Orchestra's Panufnik Composers Scheme and her LSO Soundhub residency at 575 Wandsworth Road, the former home of Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006) with its interior decorated with a profusion of Asalache's fretwork, with Horrocks-Hopayian using Asalache's carvings, paintings and his own stories as inspiration.

We begin with Muted Lines which was written for saxophonist Trish Clowes and where Horrocks-Hopayian's own smoky voice interacts in a bluesy manner with Clowes' saxophone, until the music goes up-tempo with a terrific saxophone solo. Then comes the title track, Welcome Party which is dedicated to Susie Thomson (Khadambi Asalache's partner) and Horrocks-Hopayian's family. It is an extrovert orchestral piece which seems to be channelling Percy Grainger at his most up-beat and inventive.

The Cave Painter takes as its inspiration one of Asalache's poems. First Horrocks-Hopayian reads the poem and then we hear the work, for violin, viola and bass clarinet, sustained, evocative and thoughtful with the solo violin to the fore. Text is also the inspiration for Swallows and Nightingales but here it is fragments of Armenian author Gevork Dodokhian and Saphho. Performed by Ziazan and a string quintet, the result is an evocation of birdsong with an elaborate dialogue between voice and strings.

The Ladies returns to 575 Wandsworth Road, specifically the bathroom where Asalache's paintings include images of an eclectic mix of women from Bessie Smith to Cleopatra to Madame Pompadour. It combines an exciting orchestral contribution with Ziazan's bluesy voice including some extensive scat singing. Aslache's carved images inspired Dancing Birds, though here the music is sustained and thoughtful with sliding lines in the strings giving the whole a very aerial feel.

Another text by Asalache's follows, and Horrocks-Hopayian's Inkwells uses a graphic score inspired by the text. The physical look of Horrocks-Hopayian's scores is important to her, so that Muted Lines uses a text written as eye-music, whilst both Inkwells and Ways and Ways have cutouts in the score, mirroring Asalache's fretwork. Inkwells uses found sounds, from 575 Wandsworth Road, so we begin with recorded hammering which develops into intriguingly complex poly-rhythms over which Ziazan's voice floats almost as an invocation.

2015 marked the centenary of the Armenian genocide, and Horrocks-Hopayian's Ser is one of her responses, a choral setting of a single work, 'Ser' which is the Armenian word for love. Performed by the choir of Girton College, it is a considered work full of fascinating harmony.

Walls and Ways returns us to found sounds, this time the tick of the grandfather clock in 575 Wandsworth Road and the sound of birdsong. Over this, the clarinet combines with Asalache's intriguing story, Parting of Ways, read by Ziazan to create a sense both of place and of timelessness.

The choir of Girton College return with Lullaby Between Two, a work that uses the same material as Welcome Party but in intriguingly different ways, and the piece is a tribute to an aunt who died during the pandemic.

There is an engaging approachability to Horrocks-Hopayian and, along with a delight in telling stories there is a clear sense of her love of crossing stylistic boundaries. The results are intriguing and often seductive.

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian Welcome Party
Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (voice)
Ziazan (voice)
Trish Clowes (saxophone)
Tim Giles (drums)
London Symphony Orchestra, Jon Hargreaves (conductor)
Ausias Garrigos Morant (clarinets)
Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Gareth Wilson (conductor)
Recorded at All Saints, Tooting, 19-20 July 2021, St Georges' Chesterton, Cambridge, 28 June 2021
NMIC D268 1CD [57:48]








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Elsewhere on this blog

  • Panache, intensity and vivid story-telling from Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn in Modest Musorgsky: Unorthodox music at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • A joy in complexity of texture and rhythm: Sinfonietta Riga in four recent works written for them by Lativan composers - record review
  • We live in a world where nothing has been left untouched by humanity: composer Jan-Peter de Graaff chats about the inspirations for his new cello concerto - interview
  • Colour and movement: Patrick Allies and Siglo de Oro transport us to 17th century New Spain - concert review
  • Full of the joy of Christmas: music by Heinrich Schütz and his contemporaries from Arcangelo at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • Hymns to the Virgin: the Tallis Scholars at St John's Smith Square's Christmas Festival - concert review
  • The Other ErlkingSongs and Ballads of Carl Loewe, from Nicholas Mogg and Jâms Coleman - record review
  • Focused intensity and sheer joyful elan: John Butt and Dunedin Consort perform Handel's Messiah at Wigmore Hall  - concert review
  • Music and meaning: Handel's Messiah from Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge and Britten Sinfonia with conductor David Watkin at the Barbican - concert review
  • Something more raw, that goes back to the origins of the stories: I chat to composer Glen Gabriel about his new album, Norse Mythology - my interview
  • The comfort of the familiar mixed with the intriguing, the lesser known and the downright unfamiliar: The Sixteen at Christmas - concert review
  • Poetic imagination: Andri Björn Róbertsson and Ástríður Alda Sigurðardóttir in songs by Árni Thorsteinson & Robert Schumann - record review
  • Home

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Celebrations continue: two world premieres as part of London Chamber Orchestra's centenary season

London Chamber Orchestra and Christopher Warren-Green
London Chamber Orchestra and Christopher Warren-Green

The London Chamber Orchestra, conductor Christopher Warren-Green, continues celebrations of its centenary with concerts at St John's Smith Square, including two world premieres. Nicholas Korth's Inscapes debuts on 22 February 2022, when Christopher Warren-Green conducts a programme that also includes Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with Toby Spence (tenor) and Pip Eastop (horn), plus music by Mozart. Whilst on 21 June 2022, violinist Pekka Kuusisto directs the orchestra in a programme that includes a premiere from Freya Waley-Cohen celebrating the end of her residency with the orchestra.

Waley-Cohen's song-cycle, Happiness is performed on 18 March 2022 alongside music by Sondheim and Beethoven, whilst an all-Mahler programme on 26 April 2022 includes the baritone and tenor version of Das Lied von der Erde.

Full details from the London Chamber Orchestra's website. Highlights from all concerts will be available online following each performance, for viewers to enjoy free of charge.

Panache, intensity and vivid story-telling from Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn in Modest Musorgsky: Unorthodox music at Wigmore Hall

Modest Musorgsky in around 1870
Modest Musorgsky in around 1870

Modest Musorgsky: Unorthodox music
; Claire Booth, Christopher Glynn; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 January 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A mix of well-known and lesser known songs plus piano pieces spun into a remarkable sequence that highlighted the way Musorgsky pushed and transcended boundaries

Musorgsky wrote nearly 70 songs and we just don't hear enough of them in the concert hall. So it was a great treat that soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn followed up their October 2021 disc on Avie, Modest Musorgsky: Unorthodox Music with a lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 11 January 2021 that mixed Musorgsky's songs with piano pieces. The programme was organised around a thematic arc of an imagined life, with sections on Nursery, Youthful Years, Marriage, and Loneliness. Songs from the great song-cycles were here, The Nursery, Songs and Dances of Death and Sunless, but also individual songs that deserve to be better known and complimentary piano solos.

In her spoken introduction, Claire Booth said that one of the surprises that came out of her and Christopher Glynn's exploration of Musorgsky's output was quite how many strong women there were in his songs (in contrast to his operas), and of course in the Russian tradition Death can be female, and indeed Musorgsky referred to his song-cycle Songs and Dances of Death as her.

There is another thing about Musorgsky's songs, even the ones best known in orchestral guise, and that is their sense of imagination, boundary-crossing freedom. Katherine Broderick and Sergey Rybin's 2016 disc of Musorgsky songs on Stone Records [see my review] made a strong case for the links between Musorgsky's song output and French impressionism, notably Debussy. It is worth re-iterating what we know, as the timeline is intriguing. 

The young Debussy spent the summers of 1880, 1881 and 1882 touring Europe with Tchaikovsky's patron Nadezhda von Meck, acting as teacher and pianist for her daughters. Musorgsky's cycle Sunless was finished in 1874 and published that year, whilst Songs and Dances of Death was finished in 1875 but not published until 1882, though a number of Musorgsky's songs were published in the 1870s. And the Paris Conservatoire bought a copy of Musorgsky's Boris Godunuv in 1874. So, it is worth listening to these songs with new ears.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

A joy in complexity of texture and rhythm: Sinfonietta Riga in four recent works written for them by Latvian composers

Ruta Paidere, Andris Dzenītis, Platons Buravickis, Linda Leimane; Aigars Raumanis, Sinfonietta Riga, Normunds Šnē; SKANI

Ruta Paidere, Andris Dzenītis, Platons Buravickis, Linda Leimane; Aigars Raumanis, Sinfonietta Riga, Normunds Šnē; SKANI

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 January 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Four recent works by Latvian composers written for Sinfonietta Riga and displaying the full range of brilliance and complexity in their orchestral writing

Sinfonietta Riga is a relatively young ensemble, founded in Latvia in 2006. On this disc from the Latvian label Skani, Sinfonietta Riga and conductor Normunds Šnē perform four works written for the ensemble by Latvian composers, Ruta Paidere’s Tempera, Andris Dzenītis' Euphoria, Platons Buravickis' The Temperature of Plastics with saxophonist Aigars Raumanis and Linda Leimane’s Ray-Bows.

For much of the 20th and 21st centuries, music in the Baltic countries has remained intimately intertwined with the complexities of history. The composers represented on this disc are amongst the generations that grew up able to work freely, without persecution by totalitarian regimes or clashes with even older political ideologies. In fact, two of the composers on the disc were born around the time that Latvia regained its independence. Not that musical life was all sweetness and light. Political ideology in the newly independent Latvia saw the profession of composer as almost completely superfluous and unnecessary, official rhetoric, said the country already had one composer – as well as one famous pianist, one award-winning violinist, and so on – so it did not need any more. For this reason, many of the composers from these early generations found themselves needing to live and work elsewhere. 

All four pieces on the disc are a world away from the minimalism and spirituality embraced by Latvian composers such as Rihards Dubra. All four works here celebrate a sort of maximalism and a joy in complexity of texture and rhythm, along with technical challenge. 

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