Monday 28 February 2022

Guildhall School of Music & Drama's short courses

Guildhall School of Music & Drama - short courses

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has started doing short courses aimed at both at young people and adults interested in honing particular musical skills and, of course, the holiday period is ideal to encourage people to do so.

For the Easter holidays, there are courses for adults and for children. There is Conducting & Ensemble Direction, where over four days participants will get a thorough grounding in the physical technique of conducting and will conduct a variety of repertoire.  For young people there is the Easter Music Course led by tutors from the Junior Guildhall where young instrumentalists playing any bowed string, wind, brass or percussion instruments will gain ensemble experience in a welcoming and supportive environment.  More technical perhaps is the Essential Music Theory: Grade 5 which is being given both in children's and adult's versions, again five-day course. And Exploring Musicianship for Children and Parents is Saturday workshop for children and parents, based on popular Junior Guildhall Kindergarten music training programme.

There are also online courses, so that at Easter there is Mastering Aural Tests, whilst in the Summer there are Arranging & Reharmonisation for A Cappella (Ages 18+), led by by Guildhall School Vocal Arranging Professor James Rose who tours with the a cappella group Accent, plus Grade 6 Music Theory (Ages 18+) and Music Production in Logic Pro: Intermediate (Ages 18+).

And of course, the courses expand beyond music with drama courses, production arts and lots else. 

Full details from the Guildhall School website.

Love, Spit And Valve Oil

Martin Green with members of Whitburn Brass Band (photo Sandy Butler)
Martin Green with members of Whitburn Brass Band (photo Sandy Butler)

Martin Green is perhaps best known amongst lovers of folk-music. He trained with and has performed with some of the major names in folk, and with his trio Lau, plays almost entirely self-composed material. Green has also written for other genres, include the theatre, a song cycle Crows’ Bones for Opera North in 2012/13 and Seiche for the Kronos Quartet’s UK tour in 2016.

For the last year, Green has been embedded in another, very different traditional genre, the brass band. He has spent the year surrounded by the communities, the competition and the legacy of coal and in a new documentary on BBC Radio 4, Love, Spit And Valve Oil, Green explores the world of brass bands, discovering why banding in Britain has outlasted the pits, the picket lines and the closures.  For generations, the self-contained world of the bands has been a refuge, a community-building practice and a source of healing.

The end result of Martin Green's odyssey through brass banding isn't just a documentary, he has also written his first work for brass band. The three-part documentary is transmitted from 3 March 2022, and then on 3 April 2022, Whitburn Brass Band will give the premiere of Martin Green’s new work, titled Split the Air, at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre as part of Wonder Festival. The event will also feature a preview of Keli, a new audio drama by Martin Green and Wils Wilson also inspired by the brass band community. Keli is the fictional story of a troubled young horn player, composed by Martin Green, co-created and directed by Wils Wilson, and starring James Cosmo and Anna Russell Martin, Keli will be fully released on The Lyceum’s Sound Stage on April 26th

Split the Air is one of ten new works commissioned for the PRS Foundation’s New Music Biennial 2022, Split the Air returns to the stage at the festival weekends in Coventry UK City of Culture (Sat 23 April) and London’s Southbank (Sat 2 July). Celebrating the legacy of banding and looking to its future, the work will be performed by the talented young players of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.  

Further details from Martin Green's website.

A superbly engrossing performance: James Newby and Simon Lepper in Schubert's 'Die schöne Müllerin' at Wigmore Hall

Wilhelm Müller, the poet whose work formed the inspiration for Schubert's song cycle
Wilhelm Müller, the poet whose work
formed the inspiration for Schubert's song cycle

Schubert Die schöne Müllerin; James Newby, Simon Lepper; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 February 2022 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
James Newby and Simon Lepper vividly incarnate the young miller, making his journey a roller-coaster ride of changing emotions

Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin has its origins in poet Wilhelm Müller's participation in a liederspiel, and his contribution developed into a cycle of 25 poems, published in 1821, of which twenty were set by Schubert. In fact, 
Müller's work clearly had great significant for Schubert, because Winterreise was also based on one of the poet's cycles.

The move from liederspiel to published poetry to lieder cycle (a genre that was still relatively new), places the the story slightly at one remove. And we should remember that the cycle was not performed complete in public until 1856, when critics and audience found the idea somewhat strange!

If we have a complete performance of the cycle, is the singer recounting the tale or participating in it, is the emotion felt in the moment or recalled in tranquillity? The choices are there. The protagonist is clearly a young man and for baritone James Newby and pianist Simon Lepper's performance of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall on Friday 25 February 2022, the young miller was there before us from the very outset; until the final song, the brook's lullaby to the dead miller, Newby was the very incarnation of the anxious young lover.

And he certainly was intense and anxious.

Sunday 27 February 2022

English Touring Opera's revival of Puccini's La Boheme proves finely satisfying

Puccini: La Boheme - Michel de Souza, April Koyejo-Audiger,  Francesca Chiejina, Luciano Botelho - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Puccini: La Boheme - Michel de Souza, April Koyejo-Audiger,  Francesca Chiejina, Luciano Botelho - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Puccini La Boheme; Francesca Chiejina, Luciano Botelho, April Koyejo-Audiger, Michel de Souza, Trevor Eliot Bowes, Themba Mvula, dir: Christopher Moon-Little/James Conways, cond: Dionysis Grammenos; English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 February 2022 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Intelligent, well thought out, engaging, and moving, ETO revival of their 2015 production show Puccini's opera can engage both those new to the opera and those for whom the work is very familiar

English Touring Opera's Spring season opened at the Hackney Empire on Saturday 26 February 2022 with a revival directed by Christopher Moon-Little of James Conway's 2015 production of Puccini's La Boheme, Dionysis Grammenos conducted with Francesca Chiejina as Mimi, Luciano Botelho as Rodolfo, Michel de Souza as Marcello, Trevor Eliot Bowes as Colline, Themba Mvula as Schaunard and April Koyejo-Audiger as Musetta. Designs were originally by Florence de Mare, revival designer Neil Irish. Bryan Higgins' edition for chamber orchestra was used.

For all it's tear-jerker reputation (and let's face it, no production of La Boheme is a complete success unless Mimi's death scene brings a tear), Puccini's first runaway success is a surprisingly complex and multi-layered piece. First there is Puccini's sophisticated use of the orchestra, taking from Massenet the use of orchestral motifs to help tell the story and provide extra background. Then there is a question of who these students are. The opera is based on Henri Murger's stories (stories that spawned a play and a novel), based on his own life, about life in bohemian Paris, documenting the students and artists, many of whom were not necessarily genuinely down on the uppers but simply part of the Bohemian movement. Yet some of the details in Acts 1 and 3 relate directly to Puccini's time as an impoverished student studying in Milan. But, whilst in Milan, he came into contact with a group of older artists and composers who had been part of the Scapigliatura (the shoeless ones) movement, the post Risorgimento artistic movement that was Italy's equivalent of Bohemianism. So there is plenty to go at there, and each director makes their own choices.

Puccini: La Boheme - Luciano Botelho, Francesca Chiejina - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Puccini: La Boheme - Luciano Botelho, Francesca Chiejina - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

The revival director, Christopher Moon-Little contributed a fine article in the programme book exploring the history of the grisette, not only introducing me to the word civette (literally little owl), but pointing out the two female characters are known, throughout the opera by their nicknames, 'Sweetie' and 'Bagpipe', something that can easily pass us by in the welter of hummable tunes and lively stage detail.

Saturday 26 February 2022

The Last Castrato: Max Hoehn and Torsten Rasch on their new collaboration as part of Opera21's platform for new opera

Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922)
Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) 

The British-Swiss director Max Hoehn created Opera21 last year. A response to the pandemic, the new company aimed to offer a laboratory for developing new works and is designed to support composers and the sector by offering a new commissioning model and using the website as a digital showcase for works-in-progress. One of the new works is The Last Castrato, an opera based on the life of the last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, with a libretto by Max and music by the German composer Torsten Rasch. Torsten has written 18 minutes of music, and this has been recorded by countertenor Andrew Watts and soprano Rebecca Bottone, with CHROMA Ensemble conducted by Gerry Cornelius, and is available on  Opera21's YouTube channel and the Opera21 website. And Max hopes this sample of the work can tempt producing partners to commission the full work from Torsten in the future. I recently spoke to Max and Torsten about the new project.

Max Hoehn and Torsten Rasch
Max Hoehn and Torsten Rasch

Max's idea for Opera21 came directly out of two libretti that he was writing, but the idea also sprang from the pandemic. His thoughts were "what was useful for opera now?". He was thinking about contemporary opera, and despite a plethora of good composers, there is still quite a low hit rate with new operas. In Max's view, the problem often stems from the libretto. But also, the commissioning process is rarely artist-led and ideas for operas frequently arise with the commissioners, the intendants rather than with the artists. The Last Castrato is not Opera21's only project, they are also planning a new piece which will be digital, more of a radio opera, by Joe Cutler.

Torsten has written a number of operas, and many of these came about because people came to him with ideas. He has been very happy with the subjects so far, but he admits that it would be very hard to say no if he was genuinely not inspired by the subject, so he finds Max's ideas exciting. By writing 18 minutes of the opera and recording it, they have effectively created a pilot version of the work; this is common in television but less so in new opera and Max loves the music Torsten has written. They came together in London last year to create the recordings, despite restrictions.

Friday 25 February 2022

The Wellspring: An exploration of fathers and sons

Barney Norris & David Owen Norris: The Wellspring - Royal & Derngate Northampton

As part of its Made in Northampton 2021/22, Royal & Derngate in Northampton is presenting a new work by playwright Barney Norris. An event noted on this blog because Barney Norris is the son of pianist and composer David Owen Norris, and The Wellspring is a collaboration between the two. The piece examines that age-old story of a boy and his dad, and how they can relate to one another, in every sense of the word, and the work features an intimate performance by the father and son. 

A rich autobiographical exploration of their relationship, The Wellspring takes us inside the complex and shifting dynamic between this father and son, exploring the people and stories that shape us. Their performances will be accompanied by both folk and classical music performed by both David Owen Norris and Barney Norris, creating a scrapbook style collage of the pair's lives together. 

Barney Norris said: "The Wellspring is a play about fathers and sons, and a particular father and son who have spent time apart and want to hear each other's stories. It's also about how we end up in the lives we end up in, and the wild, precarious adventure of deciding to be an artist - something my Dad and I both did. We want to use the play to fill auditoria with music, and song, and joy, and happy memory; also with loss, with revelation, with the vulnerability of extreme honesty. We want it to feel, effectively, like being in a family."

The Wellspring is directed by Jude Christian, and ut runs in Northampton from 17 to 26 March 2022, 29 to 30 March in Oxford, 26 to 28 May in Southampton, 30 May to 1 June in Guildford and then touring to literary festivals this summer. 

Details from the Royal & Derngate website.

CBSO appoints cohort of six assistant conductors

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) logo

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) has announced the appointment of six assistant conductors, the first time the orchestra has appointed a cohort of such rather than a single one. 

Bertie Baigent, Olivia Clarke, Otis Enokido-Lineham, Jack Lovell-Huckle, Charlotte Politi and Konstantinos Terzakis start work with the CBSO in March and will be assigned at least four weeks of engagement over the next fifteen months to assist in a range of activities from family concerts to international tours, world premiere performances, and everything in between. There will also be the opportunity for meetings and workshops with musicians and management, plus an open invitation to attend all rehearsals and concerts taking place from March 2022 to June 2023.

Bertie Baigent is music director of Waterperry Opera Festival and one of the finalists in the Rotterdam International Conducting Competition 2022, Olivia Clarke is the current English National Opera Mackerras Fellow, Otis Enokido-Lineham is studying at the Royal Academy of Music with Sian Edwards, Jack Lovell-Huckle works as a conductor, arranger/orchestrator, piano technician as well as orchestral librarian with the CBSO, Charlotte Politi is the Constant Lambert Conducting Fellow with The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet and Konstantinos Terzakis was recently selected as conductor of the Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie of Klangspuren Schwaz.

Previous assistant conductors of the CBSO include Michael Seal, Alpesh Chauhan, Jonathan Bloxham and Jaume Santonja Espinós.

Full details from the CBSO website.

Celebrating the bicentenary of the death of William Herschel with premiere recordings of two of his trio sonatas

Manuscript of William Herschel's Symphony No. 15 in E-flat major (1762)
Manuscript of William Herschel's Symphony No. 15 in E-flat major (1762)

This year is the bi-centenary of the death of Frederick William Herschel (1738-1822), the German-born British composer and astronomer who is best known for his discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781. 
But Herschel had a parallel career as a musician though few of his compositions have made it into the record catalogue, and now The Dionysus Ensemble have recorded two of his trio sonatas.

Portrait of William Herschel by Lemuel Francis Abbott (1785)
William Herschel by Lemuel Francis Abbott (1785)
William Herschel came from a musical family. His father was an oboist in the band of the Hanoverian Guards, and both Wilhelm (as he was then) and his brother Jakob were engaged as oboists with the band. But the threat of war and defeat in battle led their father to send Wilhelm and Jakob to England in 1757. Wilhelm was charged with desertion but would be pardoned by King George III (also King of Hanover) in 1782.

Wilhelm naturalised, learned English, and by 1761 was lead violinist with Charles Avison's orchestra in Newcastle, before moving to Leeds then Halifax (where he was the first organist at the church that is now Halifax Minster). In 1766 he became the organist of the newly built Octagon Chapel in Bath where in 1767 he directed a performance of Handel's Messiah (with Paragon Singers in Bath currently having a project to celebrate these performances, see my article). He was also director of public concerts in Bath and by 1780 he was director of the Bath orchestra. The Octagon Chapel survives (albeit in secular form) and is now a bar and restaurant, The Botanist!

In 1772, his sister Caroline arrived in England to live with him. Whilst she would be soprano soloist in his concerts, she also was a partner in his astronomical studies. With her help and that of his brother Alexander he made his own telescopes, constructing his first large reflecting telescope in 1774 and from then on astronomy seems to have been his principal interest. Caroline would spend the next 50 years aiding her brother and you do wonder whether, like Mendelssohn's sister and Schumann's wife, her contribution has been somewhat minimised. 

In 1785, with financial support from King George III, Herschel constructed a 40 foot telescope. The construction of this was a challenge, is was late and over-budget, and it proved cumbersome. Though useful, the images were not as clear as intended and in fact Herschel took the technology to its limits and only with 19th century improvements to the precision engineering of high-quality mirrors would further developments be possible.

William Herschel's 40 foot Grand Reflecting Telescope
William Herschel's 40 foot Grand Reflecting Telescope

Herschel's musical output largely dates from the 1760s, including six symphonies, 18 symphonies for small orchestra, over a dozen concertos. Matthias Bamert and the London Mozart Players recorded six of the symphonies in 2003 [available from Amazon] but there is remarkably little else of Herschel's in the catalogue.

Herschel died in 1822 in Slough and was buried at St Laurence's Church, Upton, Slough. Now the Slough based Dionysus Ensemble, has recorded two of Herschel's trio sonatas, transcribing them from the original manuscripts. These are available for streaming [Link Tree] and we hope that the recording spurs others to explore this music.

Epilogue from Olovson's Storytelling

Olovson is Jacob Olofsson, known for being one half of the Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum selling Swedish production duo Jarami. His new neo-classical album Storytelling is out on 4 March 2022, and in advance Olovson has issued a video of the track 'Epilogue' featuring a surreal animation by Russian-born, Paris-based award-winning artist and animator Anna Budanova. The video is described thus:

"Using charcoal and purposefully rough elements, we’re introduced to an ever-changing world that leaves animals and humans alike perplexed and looking for answers. A doorway to the darkness with a gentle swirl of snow outside: Olovson’s neo-classical notes provide the key to figuring it all out."

Watch 'Epilogue' on YouTube. Storytelling is available to pre-order [Link Tree]

Thursday 24 February 2022

Her Day: A new opera presented by a female-led Coventry-based team that shines a spotlight on the lives of ordinary local women

Her Day is a new opera that is being presented by a female-led Coventry-based team at HMV Empire, Coventry from 8 to 12 March 2022.

Her Day
 is a new opera that is being presented by a female-led Coventry-based team at HMV Empire, Coventry from 8 to 12 March 2022. With music by playwright and composer Sayan Kent and words by playwright Vanessa Oakes, the new work is being directed by Lucy Bradley, designed by Nancy Surman and with Berrak Dyer as music director. The cast includes Nina Bennett, Kelly Glyptis, Grace Nyandoro and Claire Wild, with a community chorus of local female singers performing alongside the professional singers and instrumentalists. There is also an accompanying programme of activities exploring opera, including an Opera Buddies Friendship Group.

Her Day is intended to shine a spotlight on the lives of ordinary local women engaged in everyday acts of peaceful protest, and looks at four Coventry women, four different stories but with a common need for connection, all set against the background of a women's friendship group, and the work was developed in collaboration with women's groups around Coventry.

Kent and Oakes are members of the Royal Opera House’s Engender initiative, designed to change the gender imbalance in opera and music theatre, and are mentored by Richard Willacy and Hannah Griffiths at Birmingham Opera Company.

Further details and tickets from EventBrite.

Manhattan to Montmartre: Bernstein and Gershwin transcriptions from Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown

Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Gershwin Second Rhapsody, An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue; Julian Jacobson, Mariko Brown; SOMM

Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Gershwin Second Rhapsody, An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue; Julian Jacobson, Mariko Brown; SOMM

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Classic American pieces that cross over between jazz and classical come up delightfully sparkling in these transcriptions for two pianists

Transcribing music for two pianists (whether at one or two pianos) can often bring new insights, shorn of the brilliance and colour of the orchestration, the work's bones are often seen better and can place the piece in new light. On this disc from SOMM, Manhattan to Montmartre, pianists Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown perform duet transcriptions of four iconic works, Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and three works by George Gershwin, Second Rhapsody, An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue. The Bernstein was transcribed for two pianos by American composer John Musto in 1998. Gershwin's Second Rhapsody, and An American in Paris were transcribed for piano duet by Julian Jacobson in 2014 and 2016 respectively, whilst Rhapsody in Blue was transcribed for piano duet by Henry Levine in 1925, a version that Gershwin used to play with friends.

In 1910, more than three-quarters of the population of New York were either immigrants or the children of immigrants, so no wonder the city's musical culture developed as such a melting pot, combining music from European homelands with African American music and more. Irving Berlin was born in Russia, Vernon Duke was originally Vladimir Dukelsky, George Gershwin was the son of immigrants from Russia, Richard Rodger's grandparents were Russian immigrants whilst Leonard Bernstein's parents were from the Ukraine [I am indebted to Robert Matthew-Walker's admirable booklet note for this fascinating information]. Additional to this Russian factor should be added that many (if not all) these immigrants were of Jewish origins, the Russian pogroms against the Jews in the late-19th and early 20th centuries causing significant problems.

Wednesday 23 February 2022

London Music Fund celebrating ten years of supporting young musicians across the captital

London Music Fund scholars in a workshop
London Music Fund scholars in a workshop

The London Music Fund (LMF) is 10 years old and is celebrating tonight (23 February 2022) with a gala concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The event features award-winning saxophonist and broadcaster YolanDa Brown, and includes a performance of A Celebration by Oscar-winning composer, Rachel Portman OBE, originally commissioned by the charity for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee River Pageant, and young musicians from across the capital will be coming together to showcase their talent and achievements thanks to the LMF's support.

In 2021, the LMF was the winner of the Outstanding Musical Initiative at the Music & Drama Education Awards. It was established in 2011 as an independent charity, with the Mayor of London as patron, to help provide young people from low income families with music education and to enable children in under-served communities to access high-quality music education. Since its founding, the LMF has supported more than 10,000 aspiring young musicians, awarded more than 600 scholarships and helped more than 50 collaborations with professional arts organisations.

One of the soloists at the gala will be Ignacy Stefanowicz. Now aged 18, and a violinist from Hounslow, Ignacy began playing the violin at the age of 7 and received a LMF Scholarship through Hounslow Music Service in 2012. In 2014 he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School. Other LMF alumni playing in the gala include Eva Serksnaite and Zaki Osahn, both of whom will be playing in the wind ensemble. Eva is an 18-year-old bassoonist from Sutton who her first year as an undergraduate at the Royal College of Music having begun her LMF Scholarship in 2012, going on gain a scholarship at the Purcell School where she came Head Girl. Zaki is 17-year-old clarinettist from Hounslow and he is studying at the Purcell School.

The opening work at the gala will be performed by an ensemble made up of the LMF's new scholars, including Asma, a 9-year-old trumpeter from the Tri-Borough Music Hub. Asma learned the basics of playing the trumpet entirely online, prior to in-person lessons returning due to the pandemic. Playing the trumpet has been a huge comfort to Asma during the past difficult couple of years.

The finale of the concert features the Celebration Ensemble, made up of Scholars from every cohort over the last ten year, representing every London borough. This ensemble includes Bishop, a 12-year-old drummer from Ealing. Bishop started his Scholarship in 2019 and he has superb technical ability and can play very challenging pieces. In 2020 he won the Christmas video competition with a brilliant rendition of Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is you.

The cycle of life: Jamie Manton's new production of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen at English National Opera

Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen - Pumeza Matshikiza, Sally Matthews - ENO (Photo Clive Barda)
Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen - Pumeza Matshikiza, Sally Matthews
ENO (Photo Clive Barda)

Janacek The Cunning Little Vixen; Sally Matthew, Lester Lynch, Pumeza Matshikiza, Alan Oke, Clive Bayley, Ossian Huskinson

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Jamie Manton's deliberately low-fi production successfully mixes a sense of melancholy with the feeling of the cycle of life, enlivened by a strong central performance from Sally Matthews

Director Jamie Manton had never seen a production of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen prior to being asked to direct the new production for English National Opera (ENO) at the London Coliseum. This meant that he brought a remarkable lack of preconceptions to the work. Manton, who directed the wonderfully inventive outdoor production of Verdi's La Traviata at Nevill Holt Opera last year [see my review], showed a similar imagination in filling the wide open spaces of the Coliseum stage. The production's planned first night was cancelled owing to the storm on Friday, so we caught Jamie Manton's production of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen at ENO on Tuesday 22 February 2022. Martyn Brabbins conducted, with Sally Matthews as the Vixen, Lester Lynch as the Forester, Pumeza Matshikiza as the Fox, Alan Oke as the Schoolmaster and the Mosquito, Clive Bayley as the Priest and the Badger, Ossian Huskinson as Harasta. Designs were by Tom Scutt, with illustrations by Anya Allin, lighting by Lucy Carter and movement by Jenny Ogilvie.

There was a deliberate low-fi feeling to the designs as well as a significant lack of the picturesque. This forest was a business-like place, and the sense that we were in a theatre was palpable. We opened on a bare stage, and the main sets were a series of wooden pallets containing logs; the use of logs throughout the work made us aware that this was a working forest, the trees themselves had a limited life. The main visual stimulus came from a remarkable scroll which unfolded downwards. Created by illustrator Anya Allin, it began with a the beginning of life, a foetus, and scrolled through the events till there was nothing at the end, when the scroll dropped and Lester Lynch's Forester took it with him on his final journey. In fact, we saw all the characters leaving the stage/dying, giving us another feeling of the melancholy progress of life.

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Aria Borealis Bodø: new singing competition and Early Music festival based in the only city within the Arctic Circle

Bodø (Photo Carl Erik Nyvold)
Bodø (Photo Carl Erik Nyvold)

Bodø is a compact city just North of the Arctic Circle in Norway; the Northern-most city in the world and the only one within the Arctic Circle. It is a place to enjoy awe-inspiring natural landscape beneath an Arctic midsummer’s never-setting sun. But this year the launch of a new festival, the punningly named Aria Borealis Bodø, will be drawing Early Music lovers too. From 24 June to 2 July 2022 the city will be hosting the Aria Borealis Bodø International Competition for Early Music Singers and a companion festival of Early Music.

The idea behind the combined competition and festival is to take eight winners of the competition and place them with an ensemble of  historically informed performance specialists and treat them as equal partners in chamber-scale performances. Audiences will be able to follow the creative process as it unfolds from rehearsals to concerts, and discover more about the collaborative art of interpretation as the nine-day event unfolds.

The competition is open to singers born in 1985 or after, and eight singers have been chosen via a digital round that attracted over 100 entrants from 39 countries and the winners were selected by the jury which included soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, harpsichordist and Artistic Director of Concerto Copenhagen Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Theater an der Wien director Stefan Herheim, Finnish soprano Tuuli Lindeberg and Swedish tenor Anders J. Dahlin. 

At the festival the competition will have two live rounds, the first consisting of rehearsals and a concert with a chamber ensemble. For the second, contestants will compete in teams and act together in short scenes from a Baroque opera, oratorio or cantata with full orchestra and stage direction, which will lead to their second-round competition performance in Stormen Concert Hall Saturday, 2 July. Both rounds will be streamed live.

There is also a programme of lectures, concerts, talks, masterclasses and more, including performances from members of the jury, as well as the Aria Borealis Bodø Sessions, a course involving music students and amateur and professional musicians. Concerts and other sessions will be streamed to broaden the audience reach far beyond Bodø.

The inaugural Aria Borealis Bodø represents a pioneering collaboration between Nordic Baroque Scene (NBS), a network formed by the four leading Nordic Baroque orchestras, and Bodø’s Stormen Culture Centre, a concert hall, library and multi-purpose performance space opened in 2014. The competition winners will work with a pool of players drawn from Nordic Baroque Scene’s four constituent ensembles: Concerto Copenhagen, the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble and Barokkanerne (Norwegian Baroque Ensemble).

Full details from the festival website.

Handel Festival Halle celebrates its centenary

Handel Festival Halle 2022

This year the Handel Festival Halle is celebrating its centenary. That first festival in Handel's birthplace in 1922 is one of the defining moments of the modern revival of interest in Handel's wider music. The Hallisches Händelfest in 1922 concluded with a performance of Handel's Orlando, and the 2022 centenary festival, which runs from 27 May to 12 June 2022 will being with a new production of Orlando conducted by Christian Curnyn and directed by Walter Sutcliffe, the new artistic director of Halle Opera. The 1922 festival also included Susanna and Semele, both of which are being performed in 2022 along with a wide range of other works. 

After that first festival, the Halle Handel Society was formed in 1925 and a second festival took place in 1929 with a third in 1935. The fourth festival took place in 1949, and since 1952 the festival has become annual.

Other operas to be presented this year include Ariodante which will be a collaboration between the Carlo Colla e Figli marionette theatre and the Lautten Compagney Berlin. Leo Duarte and Opera Settecento will be performing Fernando, Re di Castiglia, a fragment of an opera that Handel would rework into Sosarme, with a cast including Susanna Fairbairn, Nick Scott, Chiara Hendrick and Jess Dandy. Kobie van Rensburg directs a multi-media production of Siroe, Re di Persia with Erich Traxler conducting L'Orfeo Barockorchester and a cast including Matthias Helm, Clint van der Linde, Nicholas Hariades, Annastina Malm, Amelie Müller and Philipp Kranje, a co-production with the Donaufestwochen im Strudengau festival. Handel's pasticcio, Carlo Fabrice (based on an opera by Hasse) receives its first performance in modern times with Nicholas Kierdorf conducting Concert Royal Köln Baroque orchestra with cast including Lukasz Koniezcny, Julie Vercauteren, Fanny Lustaud, and Anne-Aurore Cochet.

Handel's Brockes Passion is being presented in a staging directed by Walter Sutcliffe and conducted by Michael Hofstetter, with a cast including Romelia Lichtenstein (winner of the 2016 Handel Prize), Robert Sellier and Michael Zehe. The production was planned for 2021 but cancelled, and originally presented in October 2021.

The Portuguese orchestra Divino Sospiro makes its festival debut with Mozart's version of Messiah. MDR Radio Choir and Leipzig Baroque Opera present Susanna with a cast including Marie Lys, Ciara Henrick, Benjamin Hulett, and Benjamin Bevan, conducted by Philipp Ahmann. Howard Arman conducts the Staatskapelle Halle in Semele, in a version which re-constructs the performing edition used (cut and sung in German) for the opening concert of the 1922 festival.

There are 67 events in total including concerts from Jordi Savall, Philippe Jaroussky, Ragna Schirmer or Romelia Lichtenstein, as well as countertenor Axel Köhler, who continued as Festival director after his retirement from the stage.

Full details from the festival website.

Phantasm completes its survey of all John Jenkins' viol consorts with a disc of his four-part consorts on Linn

John Jenkins Four-Part Consorts; Phantasm; LINN

John Jenkins Four-Part Consorts; Phantasm; LINN

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Phantasm brings to a close its project to record all of John Jenkins' consorts with a finely imaginative and engaging disc of the intricate four-part consorts

The composer John Jenkins was long-active and prolific, he is recorded in 1634 as one of the musicians  performed the masque The Triumph of Peace at the court of King Charles I, he went on to successfully weather the Civil War by sheltering in the country with a number of Royalist patrons, and ended his life with a court position after the Restoration. He wrote extensive amounts music for viols and was a noted virtuoso on the lyra viol. The viol consort Phantasm has been exploring Jenkins music for viols and having recorded his five-part and six-part consorts, Phantasm has now recorded John Jenkins' Four-part consorts on LINN records. For the disc Phantasm (Laurence Dreyfus, Jonathan Manson, Emilia Benjamin, Markku Luolajan-Mikkola) are joined by Daniel Hyde (organ).

Monday 21 February 2022

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School; Quicksilver

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School
; Quicksilver

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The American Baroque ensemble explores the inventive music written by local composers and visiting Italians for the Imperial Court in 17th century Vienna

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School features the North American ensemble Quicksilver (Robert Mealy & Julie Andrijeski, violins, directors, Greg Ingles, trombone, Dominic Teresi, dulcian, David Morris, viola da gamba, Avi Stein, harpsichord & organ and Charles Weaver, theorbo) in a programme of music by composers associates with 17th century Vienna, Johann Schmelzter, Giovanni Legrenzi, Johann Rosenmüller, Giovanni Battista Buonamente, Johann Caspar Kerll, Johann Joseph Fux, Heinrich Biber, Giovanni Valentini and Antonio Bertali. Composers who, if they are known at all, are often simply names.

In 1622, the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II married Eleanora Gonazaga of Mantua, and she brought the music of Monteverdi and his colleagues to Vienna. Music continued to flourish under his successor Ferdinand III and reached a high point with the music-loving Leopold I, who came to the throne in 1658. This highly cultured emperor created a court in which the arts thrived, despite constant wars with the French and with the Ottoman Turks. It was one of the few courts in Europe to have a culture that could challenge the brilliance of King Louis XIV's France. 

The composers who came to Vienna were varied, a mixture of local men and Italians come seeking their fortunes. The disc includes 12 works of which 10 are sonatas though these are very different from 18th century sonatas. Instead we have the composer's imagination or fantasy creating whatever they wanted. This was music for show, but also for a small group of friends to play.

Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival

Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival 2022

This year's Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival is presenting an action-packed weekend of events from 27 to 29 May 2022, in a variety of historic venues in this picturesque Yorkshire town. The festival is opened by Florilegium with celebration of the music of JS Bach mixing Brandenburg Concertos with an orchestral suite and violin concerto. Then to close the festival, I Fagiolini present Draw on sweet night,  celebration of the madrigals of John Wilbye, and there will also be a screening to Tony Britten's film Draw on Sweet Night which looks at how John Wilbye spent his working life in the service and home of Suffolk recusants Sir Thomas and Lady Elizabeth Kytson.

You performers appearing at the festival include the Spanish Ensemble Sarbacanes with Music for Garden and Table with music from Haydn, Mozart and Salieri, whilst Prisma recreate the atmosphere of the pubs and bars of 17th century London during the third year of the Civil War when theatres and opera houses were closed. Sarbacanes and Prisma are supported by EEMERGING+ a Europe-wide funding programme for young up-and-coming ensembles in the field of early music funded by Creative Europe. 

Ensemble Molière is the first ensemble to be chosen as the New Generation Baroque Ensemble supported by BBC Radio 3, the Royal College of Music, and the National Centre for Early Music. Their programme The King’s Playlist is a selection of music chosen as a soundtrack to Louis XIV’s daily rituals and includes works by Charpentier, Lully, Couperin Delalande and Marais.

Other performers include Richard Egarr and Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya in four-hand piano duets by JC Bach, Mozart and Dussek.

There is also a programme of talks and lectures, including Dr Jennie England on fascinating local histories connected to St Mary's Church, a workshop with Ashley Solomon, artistic director of Florilegium, and a practical workshop for players of medieval and renaissance instruments.

Full details from the National Centre for Early Music's website.

Bristol New Music 2022

Bristol New Music
Bristol New Music, a city-wide celebration of contemporary music, returns for its fourth edition from 5 to 8 May 2022 with highlights of the programme having just been announced. International artists and collaborations include Hezarfen Ensemble performing a trans-cultural programme of commissions by top young Turkish and British composers, Chicago-based singer, and clarinettist Angel Bat Dawidin in a solo set of futuristic spiritual jazz, Berlin based Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Giske, Belgian-born Angolan producer Nazar in an uncompromising synthetic take on his native country’s Kuduro music, in dialogue with London visual artist Rob Heppell. Beatrice Dillon collaborates with British Asian composer and Bhangra pioneer Kuljit Bhamra,

Swedish composer Ellen Arkbro will perform a new organ piece on the Harrison & Harrison organ at St Mary Redcliffe, Other site-specific pieces include multimedia installation artist Kelly Jayne Jones creating a special piece for the vaults of Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Irish conceptual artist Áine O'Dwyer presenting a new commission that captures the song and instrumentation of time, place and people in the Bristol neighbourhood of Easton. 

Other artists include South London musician Mica Levy performing star star star with an ensemble at St George's Bristol, Bristol feminist interdisciplinary ensemble Viridian Ensemble, and radical noise duo Harrga,

Taking place biennially across Bristol. Bristol New Music is a collaboration between five key organisations in the city: Bristol Beacon, Arnolfini, Spike Island, St George’s Bristol and the University of Bristol. Venues this year include St George’s Bristol, Arnolfini Auditorium, Strange Brew, Spike Island, St Mary Redcliffe Church, and Clifton Suspension Bridge Vaults.

Full details from Bristol New Music website.

Buxton International Festival 2022 - Rossini's La donna del lago, Hasse's Antonio e Cleopatra

Buxton International Festival - 2022
This year's Buxton International Festival runs from 7 to 24 July 2022, and artistic director Adrian Kelly's programme features five operas and a musical including three new productions, along with a wide array of concerts and other events. 

The festival's new productions are Rossini's La donna del lago and Hasse's Antonio e Cleopatra, and the musical Gypsy, and there is also the premiere of a new oratorio.

Rossini's La donna del lago, based on Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake, is directed by Jacopo Spirei and conducted by Adrian Kelly with Máire Flavin as Elena, Nico Darmanin as Uberto, John Irvin as Rodrigo and Catherine Carby as Malcolm. Evangeline Cullingworth directs Hasse's Antonio e Cleopatra the Pavilion Arts Centre with Buxton Baroque Ensemble, music director Satoko Doi-Luck, with Ellie Neate and Thalie Knights in the title roles. The final festival production is Jules Styne's Gypsy, directed by Paul Kerryson,

Visiting productions include Salzburg State Theatre's production of Donizetti's Viva la Diva, directed by Stephen Medcalf, with George Humphreys as Agatha and Jenny Stafford as Prima Donna, Waterperry Opera's production of Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park, directed by Rebecca Meltzer with Sian Griffiths, Milo Harries, Ellie Neate and Sarah Champion, and Tom Coult's new opera Violet which is a co-production by Music Theatre Wales and Britten Pears Arts, presented in association with the London Sinfonietta, directed by Jude Christian, conducted by Andrew Gourlay with Anna Dennis, Richard Burkhard, Frances Gregory and Andrew Mackenzie Wicks.

Kate Whitley's oratorio, Our Future In Your Hands, is a festival commission; setting a libretto by Laura Attridge, the work examines concerns about climate change, with a community cast featuring choirs drawn from local schools, and orchestral musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music, led by mentors from the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

The Brodsky Quartet and the Manchester Camerata both celebrate their 50th anniversaries this year and the two ensembles will be giving a celebratory concerts including a joint one with saxophonist Jess Gillam. Other performers include the English Concert with soprano Anna Dennis and Joanna MacGregor, Chetham’s School of Music, this year’s Royal Overseas League competition winner, violinist Eleanor Corr, Gould Piano Trio, the Solem Quartet, the Chroma Harp Duo, the Delphine Trio and the Solus Trumpet Ensemble. Iestyn Davies and Christopher Maltman both give song recitals and Fretwork makes its festival debut, 

There is also a new jazz programme, books, walks, talks and other events. Full details from the festival website,

Saturday 19 February 2022

Most pieces use the dichotomy between tonality and atonality: I chat to composer Eleanor Alberga about writing music

Eleanor Alberga (Photo Benjamin Ealovaga)
Eleanor Alberga (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
Last Autumn, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields launched The Beacon Project, a digital offering of educational resources and performance films that shine a light on three beacons of contemporary music: Eleanor Alberga, Sally Beamish, and Errollyn Wallen. The first work to be issued in the project was Eleanor Alberga's Nightscape which was premiered in 1993 and a wind ensemble from the Academy gave the first performance since then in November 2020. I recently was lucky enough to catch up with Eleanor to chat about Nightscape in particular and her career in general, the importance of her Jamaican background plays in her music and we look forward to the premiere of her symphony, Strata next month.

Nightscape was a joint commission from the London Mozart Players and the Horniman Museum in 1993 and intended as a pair with Mozart's Gran Partita. Because she was writing a work to act as a companion to Mozart's serenade, Eleanor decided to write a serenade for the same line-up of instruments, but the night time that the work would evoke would be that of the Jamaican world Eleanor knew as a child. The movements include 'Sundown', which evokes the evening with cicadas, party goers, geckos, and other nocturnal creatures, 'Into the arms of Morpheus', evokeing sleep whilst the title of the third, 'Brer Fox and the Dancing Ghost' which refers to a lullaby about a fox that Eleanor's mother used to sing her. 

After the work's premiere in 1993, Eleanor 'locked it in the attic' intending to come back and revise it. Then more recently the Academy of St Martin in the Fields contacted her about the piece. She decided that it did not need much revision after all, and has now come back to life, including being listened to by school children as part of the Beacon Project. Eleanor hopes that children listening to the work will take away a sense of enjoyment and fun, that they will enjoy the jazzy rhythms and that the piece will stimulate their imaginations. She feels that imagination is particularly important for children, and that it would be marvellous if they could imagine what a night in the tropics might be like, what the sounds are saying.

Friday 18 February 2022

Robert Hugill's Passion to be performed at Chichester Cathedral by the cathedral choir as part of the Good Friday liturgy 2022

Robert Hugill: Passion

I am pleased to be able to announce that Passion, my setting of the passion story from St. John's Gospel, with interpolated poems by Carl Cook, is being performed on Good Friday (15 April 2022) by the choir of Chichester Cathedral, organist and master of the choristers Charles Harrison, as part of the Good Friday liturgy at Chichester Cathedral. This will be the work's first performance since 1999!

Lasting around 40 minutes and written for four unaccompanied voices, the work interweaves the passion story from St John's Gospel with chorales based on poems by the Black American poet Carl Cook selected from his collections Postscripts and The Tranquil Lake of Love which were both published in the 1990s.

Passion was written in 1998 for The Burgundian Cadence, a four-man a cappella vocal ensemble (Rupert Damerell, counter-tenor, Simon Biazeck, tenor, Matthew Woolhouse, tenor, Damian O'Keeffe, baritone) that specialised in music from the 14th and 15th centuries. The work was performed during 1998 and 1999 on a short tour, with an avant premiere in the 14th century Lovekyn Chapel at Kingston Grammar School, and then performances at St Mary Abbott's Church, Kensington, the British Music Information Centre, Lincoln Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. The group issued a recording on their own label in 1999 [still available from]

Certainly not traditional, but true to the work's spirit and dramaturgy: Edward Dick's production of Bizet's Carmen returns to Opera North with Chrystal E Williams back in the title role

Bizet: Carmen - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Bizet: Carmen - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Bizet Carmen; Chrystal E Williams, Sébastien Guèze, Alison Langer, Gyula Nagy, dir: Edward Dick, cond: Anthony Kraus; Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An imaginative new setting for a production lit up by the luminous performance of Chrystal E Williams in the title role

What would an authentic Carmen staging be, one true to the composer's intention - a French opera, set in Spain, based on a French novel, with a libretto written by two men who specialised in comic operas, and a score by a composer whose previous operas were set in India, Arabia and Bonnie Scotland.

The problem with Carmen is that it takes the Opéra Comique setting and peoples it with characters who speak to us today; Carmen and Don Jose's relationship burns through the form leaving the work's background a scorched mess in that searing final scene. It is not surprising that librettist Ludovic Halévy, who was at the premiere at the Opera Comique in 1875, should describe the first night audience's response getting progressively more tepid till the final act was received in near silence.

Edward Dick's new production of Bizet's Carmen (new last Autumn) has returned to Opera North for a second run. On Wednesday 16 February 2021 at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, I saw Anthony Kraus conducting a cast that included Chrystal E Williams as Carmen, Sébastien Guèze as Don Jose, Gyula Nagy as Escamillo, and Alison Langer as Micaela. Sets were designed by Colin Richmond with costumes designed by Laura Hopkins, lighting by Rick Fisher and choreography by Lea Anderson.

Bizet: Carmen - Chrystal E Williams, Sébastien Guèze - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Bizet: Carmen - Chrystal E Williams, Sébastien Guèze - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Dick has taken an imaginative leap and with designers Richmond and Hopkins, and has given Carmen a setting that enables the plot and dramaturgy to work in a vivid 20th century context, yet also solves another major issue, the problem that the opera and the title role can easily, fatally fall into two halves, the fun, sexy first two acts and the darker second two.

Leeds Lieder 2022: Song Illuminated

Leeds Lieder 2022: Song Illuminated
The Leeds Lieder Festival 2022 runs from Thursday 28 April to Sunday 1 May 2022; four days of song curated by artistic director Joseph Middleton under the title Song Illuminated, exploring how song illuminates our lives. With all of the concerts taking place at the Howard Assembly Room.

Dorothea Röschmann, soprano, opens the festival with Joseph Middleton in Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn and music by Wolf and Wagner. Ian Bostridge, tenor, and Dame Imogen Cooper will be performing Schubert's later masterpiece, Schwanengesang, whilst Robin Tritschler, tenor, is joined by pianist Christopher Glynn for a recital that has moonlight illuminating all the songs. Louise Alder, soprano, joins Middleton to bring the festival to a close with a recital of songs ranging from Fauré to Rodgers and Hammerstein.

But there is much more to the festival than this. There are lunchtime recitals in partnership with Samling Institute, BBC New Generation Artists and Kathleen Ferrier Awards, with recitals from Jess Dandy, contralto and Martin Roscoe, piano, Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano and Ilan Kurtser, piano, and Konstantin Krimmel, baritone and Joseph Middleton in Schubert's Die Schone Mullerin, plus a new work by Jonathan Dove, Man, Woman, Child, a duet cycle that is receiving its first performance outside London with Shakira Tsindos mezzo-soprano, Dominic Sedgwick baritone, and Ian Tindale piano. The Leeds Lieder 2022 Young Artists will be taking part in masterclasses and performing in a showcase concert.

Late evening recitals include The Revolution Smells of Jasmine, an homage to protest music in the Americas from female artists and composers with Wallis Giunta, mezzo-soprano, Sean Shibe, guitar, and Adam Walker, flute, with music ranging from Ariel Ramirez to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, plus Abel Meeropol's Strange Fruit. Ruby Hughes, soprano and Joseph Middleton in music by Errollyn Wallen and Mahler, plus Deborah Pritchard's new song cycle, The World.

The mental health initiative SongPath will be running a musical walking trail around St Aidan's RSPB Nature Reserve, and Jess Dandy's recital is designed to complement this event.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

Thursday 17 February 2022

St John's Smith Square's Easter Festival 2022

St John's Smith Square, Easter Festival
St John's Smith Square's Easter Festival might be relatively new but it has established itself as a feature of the the liturgical season. This year, Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment return for a performance of Bach's St John Passion on Good Friday with Nick Pritchard as the Evangelist and William Thomas as Jesus, whilst Sansara will be performing in a series of late-night liturgical events on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and Sansara will also be joining Fretwork for a programme that combines music by Arvo Part including his Stabat Mater with Robert White's Lamentations.

The Choir of King's College, London kicks things off with a performance of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil conducted by Joseph Fort, and other highlights include the Southbank Sinfonia performing Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and the London Handel Orchestra, conductor Adrian Butterfield, in a programme of Handel and Vivaldi with soprano Hilary Cronin. Organist Martin Baker will be performing Le Chemin de la Croix, the most ambitious organ work of French virtuoso organist and composer, Marcel Dupré; a work written in 1931 depicting the 14 stations of the cross.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Mendelssohn and Schumann from Antonello Manacorda and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Antonello Manacorda and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in rehearsal (Photo: the OAE)
Antonello Manacorda & the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in rehearsal
(Photo: the OAE)

Mendelssohn The Hebrides Overture, Schumann Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 2; Isabelle Faust, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Antonello Manacorda; Royal Festival Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Schumann's highly personal second symphony paired with the less well known and rather experimental late violin concerto in an evening of powerful performances and striking timbres and colours

We have a somewhat complex relationship with Robert Schumann's output and whilst his symphonies are no longer routinely re-orchestrated and 'corrected', we can still be somewhat selective. The latest concert by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) as part of their season The Wilderness Pleases, rather demonstrated this, pairing two mature Schumann works, one routinely performed, the other rather less so. At the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday 15 February 2022, Antonello Manacorda [see my recent interview with him] conducted the OAE in a programme that paired Schumann's Symphony No. 2 in C major (from 1846) with his Violin Concerto (from 1853) with Isabelle Faust as the soloist. The concert opened with Mendelssohn's The Hebrides Overture.

In The Hebrides Overture the young Mendelssohn (just 21 when it was premiered) demonstrated his mastery of small-scale symphonic form. With apparently effortless ease he took the classical concert overture and pushed in the direction of the tone poem, creating a work that is at once classically balanced and highly descriptive. It was very clear from the opening notes that Antonello Manacorda relished the timbres and textures of the period instruments, and the new relationships that these instruments create, so that at the opening it was very much the wind instruments' moment until the violins entered. Manacorda's speeds were on the steady side, allowing plenty of space for detail, and this brought out the works descriptive nature rather than it being simply an orchestral showpiece. There was plenty of excitement and climax, but always within context, and the care with balance and dynamic meant that Mendelssohn's spatial effects in the music came over well.

Schumann's relationship with symphonic form was complex; his symphonies did not quite come out in the seamless manner that their numbering implies, there were also stray symphonic movements and whilst he only wrote three 'proper' concertos, there are in fact seven concertante works. His Violin Concerto was written in 1853, in the wake of hearing violinist Joseph Joachim in Beethoven's Violin Concerto. Joachim was not impressed, and though Joachim gave the work an orchestral play-through with the composer present, it was never publicly performed and was omitted from the collected edition of the composer's works and the manuscript squirrelled away, effectively hidden until rediscovered in the 1930s and performed. It has never achieved the popularity of the earlier concertos, and it is clear from the work that Schumann's view of symphonic form was changing. 

SATARSA: Kamerorkest van het Noorden releases EP of music by Maxim Shalygin

On 22 February, Kamerorkest van het Noorden (the string orchestra based in Groningen, The Netherlands) is releasing SATARSA an EP that features SATARSA by the Ukrainian/Dutch composer Maxim Shalygin alongside Shalygin's string orchestra arrangement of music from Schnittke's Choir Concerto.

Shalygin's SATARSA is inspired by the writings of Argentine-French novelist Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) and his ingenious use of palindromes. The composer describes it thus:

"Palindromes in music are just as normal as the Fibonacci numbers in the structure of leaves on the trees. Therefore, when I read the story of Cortazar "Satarsa", I immediately felt the mysterious musical current in it. Surprisingly, for more than 15 years, I periodically return to his unusually rich work and find sources of inspiration for myself. My SATARSA is a desert of pleasure. A desert with gardens of paradise, crooked mirrors and an endless horizon, from which the melodies of our past lives are heard." - Maxim Shalygin

Shalygin (born in the Ukraine in 1985) started studying composition at the age of 16, and went on to study at the St Petersburg Conservatory and the National Music Academy in Kiev, then at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (NL), where he studied with Cornelis de Bondt and Diderik Wagenaar. Shalygin now lives in the Netherlands.

The orchestra is a relatively new professional, young, international and dynamic ensemble founded by Guillem Cabré Salagre (violinist and violist) and Teodora Nedyalkova (cellist) in 2016 and based in the city of Groningen, capital of the north of The Netherlands. The ensemble consists of 14 to 16 string players, including occasionally wind and percussion, working without a conductor and sharing the vision of an extended version of a string quartet. Emblematic of this belief is the collaboration with the Spanish ensemble, Cuarteto Quiroga.

Kamerorkest van het Noorden & Maxim Shalygin
Kamerorkest van het Noorden & Maxim Shalygin

The EP is released on all major streaming platforms on 22 February 2022, further information from the orchestra's website.

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