Wednesday, 18 May 2022

The Ring Returns: Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival celebrates opera from Monteverdi through to contemporary with some zarzuela thrown in

Wagner: Die Walküre - Bethan Langford, Elizabeth Karani, Katie Stevenson - Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire in 2021 (Photo Alex Brenner)
Wagner: Die Walküre - Bethan Langford, Elizabeth Karani, Katie Stevenson - Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire in 2021 (Photo Alex Brenner)

Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival returns this Summer for its 15th year, presenting fourteen operas and four new works, with the festival's productions of Wagner's Siegfried and Götterdämmerung completing its traversal of Wanger's Ring Cycle.

The festival opens with Ensemble OrQuesta's modern interpretation of Monteverdi's L’Incoronazione di Poppea. Then following the festival's productions of Das Rheingold in 2019 [see my review] and Die Walküre in 2021 [see my review], they return to the Hackney Empire for the final two episodes of the Ring Cycle in Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick's adaptation.

Thanks to Glyndebourne and the BBC Proms, this is rather turning into Ethel Smyth year (hurrah!) so it is delightful that Spectra Ensemble's 2018 production of Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate is returning to Grimeborn [see my review]. Other unusual repertoire includes The Cervantes Theatre in the UK première of Black, el payaso, Pablo Sorozobal's zarzuela which debuted in Spain in 1942, whilst Opera at Home are pairing Walton's The Bear with Daniel Felsenfeld's I decided...

New opera and work in progress includes John Michael Maloney's Sin the Musical from Dmii Productions, Kristina Arakelyan's Penelope (Work in Progress), What More? Production's mixture of Japanese and British Sign Language of Deaf performers in Sumida River and Red Gray & Sarah Nicholls' The Unravelling Fantasia of Miss H. which explores the Victorian mental health system.

Classic operas in the season include Bizet's Carmen in Leo Geyer's bold re-imagining for Baseless Fabric Theatre, Mozart's The Magic Flute in Lindsay Bramley's version for Opera Alegria, Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore in a radical rethink from Emma Jude Harris, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle from environmentally sustainable opera company Green Opera.

The Grimeborn Festival runs from 26 July to 10 September at the Arcola Theatre and the Hackney Empire. Full details from the Arcola Theatre website.

Launching ALPHA MISSION - ΔELOS & celebrating ARTE: EUYO's concert from Delos

Delos (Photo Tilo Krause)
Delos (Photo Tilo Krause)

On 30 May 2022, the European Youth Orchestra (EUYO) will be joined by soloists Diana Tishchenko (violin) and Sokratis Sinopoulos (lyra), plus Ukrainian and Russian musicians for a concert including Vivaldi's The Four SeasonsCarmen Fizzarotti's Floating Autumn from The [uncertain] Four Seasons and Marshall Marcus17 Strokes of the Bell for Peace and Sustainability. The venue for the concert is the Greek island of Delos. 

The event is part of  EUYO’s Peace in Europe project 2022 of seven peace concerts across Europe, and represents the inauguration of ALPHA MISSION - ΔELOS, an initiative that aims through the combined strengths of Mythology, Art and Space Technology to raise awareness globally about the urgent need for the regeneration of our planet.

The concert will be live-streamed on ARTE, on the social-media platforms of various cultural and technological institutions, and projected onto big screens in various cities around the world. It will be available on arte.tv from 30th May until end of August. The event also celebrates the 30th anniversary of ARTE, the European cultural channel.

The island of Delos, near Mykonos, near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, was a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, thus giving the island supreme importance. Changes of trade routes during the Roman era meant that that the island declined, however, and it was abandoned in the 8th Century AD. Currently it has around two dozen inhabitants, and the concert would seem to be the first such event on the island since ancient times.

Full details from the EUYO website.

The lakeside theatre returns: I chat to Kirsty Hopkins, artistic director of West Green House Opera, about the company's plans

The lake stage at West Green House Opera in 2021
The lake stage at West Green House Opera in 2021

In 2020, in response to the pandemic and the season of cancelled operas West Green House Opera decided to make the most of their assets and organise a season of concerts at an outdoor stage with the audience able to picnic in the gardens. Last year the company continued in this vein with an enchanting lakeside theatre, which is due to return this year for a season that includes productions of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. I recently met up with the festival's artistic director, Kirsty Hopkins to chat about the season and longer term plans.

Kirsty is perhaps best known as a long time member of The Sixteen and she remains firmly with the ensemble but her links to West Green House Opera go a long way back as she has sung in various events there, whilst her parents are staunch supporters of the company. A couple of years back, finding the combination of family life (Kirsty has a teenage daughter) and touring rather taxing, she decided to look for a second string to her bow.

West Green House Opera was created by Marylyn Abbott, whose resurrection of West Green's house and garden following the IRA bombing has been near miraculous. Marylyn remains firmly in harness but back in 2019/20 she was looking for someone to assist with marketing and administration. Marylyn and Kirsty's paths crossed at a dinner party and Kirsty started to assist with planning the 2020 season. Faced with pandemic cancellations, the company was able to use advance ticket sales to pay the artists something, but it did rather leave coffers dry.

Marylyn asked Kirsty to fix the 2020 concert series and these proved so popular that they continue. Come Autumn 2020, the question was what to do next year?

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Voices from the East: Kirill Karabits and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra turn their focus onto composers from Ukraine

Feodor Akimenko [Fedir Yakymenko]
Feodor Akimenko [Fedir Yakymenko]
With his Voices from the East series at Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), conductor Kirill Karabits has been exploring works by composers from former Soviet Union countries. For the orchestra's recently announced 2022/23 season, the focus turns to Ukraine. Karabits and BSO will be performing the cello concerto by Ukrainian composer Feodor Akimenko (1876-1945) [Fedir Yakymenko]. Akimenko was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and was Stravinsky's first composition teacher, but Akimento's own music is still largely unknown. A second Ukrainian composer featured in the season is contemporary composer and sound-artist Anna Korsun, the orchestra will be premiering a new work and Korsun becomes the BSO's composer in residence in 2023.

Still focusing on Voices from the East, the season also includes several works by Reinhold Glière (1875-1956). Born in Kyiv, Ukraine of Polish and German parents, Glière [originally Glier] studied in Kyiv and in Moscow with Taneyev, Ippolitov Ivanov and Arensky. As a young man, Glière's private pupils included Myaskovsky and Prokofiev, and later his students included Vladimir Dukelsky (better known as the song-writer Vernon Duke). After 1917, Glière never visited Western Europe and also seemed to have been able to keep on the right side of the Soviet authorities. His style remained very tradition, and as the last genuine representative of the pre-revolutionary national Russian school, i.e. a 'living classic', Glière seemed immune to the standard reproach of "formalism" (mostly equivalent to "modernity" or "bourgeois decadence"). Thus the infamous events of 1936 and 1948 passed Glière by. 

Other highlights of the season include horn player Felix Klieser returning as artist in residence, whilst two inclusive ensembles BSO Resound and RNS Moves join forces with composer Kate Whitley for a new work. RS Moves brings together disabled and non-disabled musicians including members of Royal Northern Sinfonia, and BSO Resound is a professional disabled-led ensemble made up of musicians led by James Rose.

Kirill Karabits conducts 16 performances during the orchestra's season, whilst Mark Wigglesworth returns as principal guest conductor and the orchestra is currently looking for a new assistant conductor.

Full details from the BSO website.

A South American Journey

The newly rejuvenated Bath Festival Orchestra is returning to London on 16 June 2022 with a programme that will transport the audience at Kings Place to South America
The newly rejuvenated Bath Festival Orchestra is returning to London on 16 June 2022 with a programme that will transport the audience at Kings Place to South America. Conducted by Peter Manning, the orchestra will be performing Villa Lobos' Guitar Concerto with soloist Ahmed Dickinson, Canciones Remotas by the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, Serenade for Strings by the Venezulan pianist and composer Maria Teresa Carreno (1853-1917) and Ginastera's Concerto for Strings.

Villa Lobos' concerto was written in 1951, commissioned by the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia, who gave the world premiere in 1956. The work went through a few changes, originally written as a Fantasia concertante, with no cadenza, Villa Lobos later added a cadenza and changed the name to concerto. Maria Teresa Carreno was a Venezuelan born pianist and composer who trained in the USA and Paris. Edward MacDowell was one of her pupils for a time and both he and Amy Beach dedicated works to Carreno. 

Before the concert proper, there is a chance for young performers to shine. Members of Bath Festival Orchestra have been working with students from East London's Bobby Moore Academy for outreach activities, working to create the first orchestra in the school's history as well as giving a joint monthly lunchtime concert series at St Mary Le Strand Church. On 16 June, the school students will perform Villa Lobos' Bachianas Brasilias No. 2 ‘The Little Train of the Caipira’ arranged by Bobby Moore Academy’s Musician-in-Residence, Harry Baker.

Full details from the orchestra's website.

The TRUMPETS shall sound! FANFARE 250 for the Fine City of Norwich

National Youth Jazz Orchestra
National Youth Jazz Orchestra
Norfolk & Norwich Festival opening weekend - FANFARE 250; James Batty, Cameron Biles-Liddell, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Nneka Cummins, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Laurence Osborn, Alexander Paxton, Shruthi Rajasekar, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Hermeto Pascoal; National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Jovino Santos Neto; Norwich
Reviewed: 13 May 2022 by Tony Cooper

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival opens with nine new Fanfares, a giant game of Dominoes and an evening collaboration between the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Hermeto Pascoal

Over the course of the opening weekend of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, 13 members of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) popped up in strategic locations round the fine city of Norwich to mark the festival’s 250th anniversary with a flourish of Fanfares written by a group of nine young and enterprising UK-based composers. Then in the evening the NYJO, directed by Jovino Santos Neto, were joined by Brazilian-born composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, Hermeto Pascoal at St Andrew's Hall. 

Interestingly, Fanfares enjoy a nice history as part of the old Norfolk & Norwich (Triennial) Festival, an initiative inaugurated in the early part of the 20th century by Sir Henry Wood, who held the position of artistic director of the ‘Triennial’ from 1908 to 1930. A good innings, for sure! Now the current artistic director of the festival, Daniel Brine, is reinstating the Fanfare event as part of the Festival 250. Good for him!

But I do recollect a Fanfare ‘revival’ to launch the 2014 festival when artists from the festival joined staff of corporate sponsor Abellio Greater Anglia (now National Express East Anglia) to perform a birthday cake candle-extinguishing Fanfare at Norwich Thorpe Station with William Galinsky (festival director) and Jonathan Denby (corporate affairs director of the railway company) in the thick of it blowing crazily to a short off-the-cuff piece of music appropriately entitled Blow! What else! Happily, Jonathan’s still in the thick of it today. Long may it continue!

But back to the present and this year a group of nine young and enterprising UK-based composers (the Chosen Nine) were commissioned by the festival to create a series of Fanfares to herald in this year’s event marking the festival’s glorious 250th anniversary while, at the same time, recapture some of the glory of yesteryear and past musical treats such as ‘Old Timber’ so dearly loved.

The festival’s young, bright and alert music programmer, James Hardie, set the Chosen Nine - James Batty, Cameron Biles-Liddell, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Nneka Cummins, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Laurence Osborn, Alexander Paxton, Shruthi Rajasekar, Ayanna Witter-Johnson - a time limit of 60 seconds for their respective pieces. And their inspiration for writing them ranged from Indian-influenced music to music inspired by prehistoric Norfolk not forgetting, of course, the jazz idiom and other such musical forms.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Young Talent showcased in Welsh National Opera's Summer & Autumn productions

WNO Youth Opera in Brundibár in 2019 (Photo Johan Persson)
WNO Youth Opera in Brundibár in 2019 (Photo Johan Persson)

Welsh National Opera has a busy Summer planned for members of the company's Youth Opera, with two new productions, and participation in one of WNO's main stage productions.

WNO Youth Opera (10-18 years) will perform the creepy, comic opera, The Black Spider, written by composer Judith Weir, at the Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre. The production will be performed by a company of 50 singers aged 10 to 18, reuniting for their first live production since Brundibár in 2019. Based on Jeremias Gotthelf’s dark medieval tale Die Schwarze Spinn. Judith Weir created The Black Spider specifically for young people, combining, history, horror and comedy and the production will be directed by Rhian Hutchings and conducted by Dan Perkin.

WNO Youth Opera (18-25 years) will be presenting a new production of Shostakovich’s Cheryomushki, on the main stage of the Donald Gordon Theatre as part of WNO's Autumn Season. The work is a satirical, light-hearted operetta focuses on the housing shortage and the challenge of securing habitable conditions in 1950s Soviet Russia. It will be presented as Cherry Town, Moscow,  directed by Daisy Evans and conducted by Alice Farnham.

Will Todd's Migrations receives its premiere as part of WNO's Summer Season and returns as part of the Autumn Season. Directed by Sir David Pountney, the opera will feature the forces of WNO’s orchestra and Chorus combined with The Renewal Gospel Choir, Bollywood dancers and traditional Indian musicians, plus a children's chorus featuring members of WNO Youth Opera (10-14).

The young people of WNO’s Youth Opera gain a fully professional and unique training experience working with WNO’s orchestra, designers, stage managers and technicians, helping develop and support their professional skills. The aspiring singers also receive mentoring and guidance from top industry professionals.

More about WNO Youth Opera at the WNO website, plus details of performances.

Essex Summer Opera Festival launched by Wild Arts with new production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Layer Marney Tower

Layer Marney Tower (photo Layer Marney Tower)
Layer Marney Tower (photo Layer Marney Tower)

A new charity, Wild Arts, founded by conductor, composer and cellist Orlando Jopling, is presenting new opera festival in Essex. The Essex Summer Opera Festival is presenting its inaugural production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at the lovely Tudor mansion of Layer Marney Tower from 7 to 10 July 2022. The festival will present opera at close quarters, sung in English by an outstanding cast, and re-imagined for more intimate, accessible performances.

Cosi fan tutte will be presented by six singers and seven musicians, conducted by Orlando Jopling with a cast including Ella Taylor (who won second prize at the 2020 Kathleen Ferrier Awards), Martha Jones, Joanna Songi, Richard Dowling, Gareth Brynmor John, and Eddie Wade, directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan, founder of the theatre company Metta. The production will update the action to 1970s Cambridge University.

Performances will take place in Quintin’s Barn, an atmospheric 16th-century structure with excellent acoustics, fresh from extensive refurbishment enabled by the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund

Prior to the festival, Wild Arts is presenting a Summer tour of smaller venues in Essex, including a preview of the production.

The Festival is presented by Wild Arts, a new charity which seeks to bring world-class cultural experiences to under-served rural parts of the UK, working in harmony with the natural environment and involving local communities. Wild Arts was founded in 2022 by Jopling as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the worrying impact of increasing social division and climate change.

Full details from the Wild Arts website.

Art and Music at the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival

Helen Grime & members of Ensemble 360 - Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at the Crucible Studio Theatre
Helen Grime & members of Ensemble 360 - Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at the Crucible Studio Theatre

Art and Music
: Huw Watkins, Helen Grime, John Cage, Debussy, Bach, Chopin; Ensemble 360; Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at the Crucible Studio Theatre
Reviewed 14 May 2022 (★★★★)

A fascinating evening that combined music and image, mixing some fine music making with an exercise in thinking about creativity and inspiration.

For the second evening (Saturday 14 May 2022) of Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at the Crucible Studio Theatre, Ensemble 360 (Tim Horton, piano, Lucy Gould, violin, Claudia Ajmone-Marsan, violin, Sara Wolstenholme, violin, Rachel Roberts viola, Gemma Rosefield, cello) explored Art and Music, performing pieces directly inspired by works of art. We heard music by Huw Watkins, Helen Grime (the guest curator of this year's festival), John Cage, Debussy, Chopin and JS Bach. Images were projected onto a screen, so that not only did we see the works of art that had inspired the music, but there was some exploration of the reverse with art inspired by music.

We began with Huw Watkins' piano solo Resurrection of the Soldiers from Four Spencer Pieces. The solo was directly inspired by the Stanley Spencer mural that fills the East (liturgical) wall of Sandham Memorial Chapel. Throughout the piece there was the tolling of a bell in the piano which seemed to link directly to Ravel's Le gibet, and for all the complexity of Watkins' harmony, there was a beautiful clarity of structure. His use of fugue highlighted many layers of inference; the structure echoed that of the painting, but there was the link to Bach and to the sacred too.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Vividly present playing & discreet virtuosity from Ensemble 360 at the launch of Music in the Round's 2022 Sheffield Chamber Music Festival

Dvorak: Piano Quintet - Ensemble 360 - Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at Crucible Studio Theatre
Dvorak: Piano Quintet - Ensemble 360 - Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at Crucible Studio Theatre

Festival Launch
 - Janacek, Martinu, Anna Meredith, Dvorak; Ensemble 360; Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at Crucible Studio Theatre
Reviewed 13 May 2022 (★★★★½)

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival launches with a largely Czech programme, showcasing the brilliant playing of Ensemble 360 in a series of unusual combinations with some vivid and very present playing

Music in the Round's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival (curated this year by composer Helen Grime) which takes place in the Crucible Studio Theatre, launched last night, Friday 13 May 2022, with a programme of largely Czech chamber music performed by members of Ensemble 360, the festival resident ensemble. So, we heard Janacek's Concertino, Martinu's Three Madrigals and Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A, Op.81, alongside Anna Meredith's Tripotage Miniatures, performed by Claire Wickes (flute), Rachael Clegg (oboe), Peter Sparks (clarinet), Sarah Burnett (bassoon), Naomi Atherton (horn), Tim Horton (piano), Kathy Gowers (violin), Claudia Ajmone-Marsan (violin), Rachel Roberts (viola), Gemma Rosefield (cello) and Daniel Storer (double bass).

Central to the festival's ethos is the space, the Crucible Studio Theatre, this is theatre in the round with the audience close to the performers on all four sides (sometimes alarmingly close). There is no front, the music is all around you and many audience members are close enough to touch the performers. This has the potential for being distracting, but last nights near capacity audience was more than attentive, no-one seemed to barely breathe such was the engagement with the music.

Unique in the Canadian cultural landscape: conductor Mark Vuorinen on the Elora Singers

Mark Vuorinen & the Elora Singers performing in the Barn at the Elora Festival
Mark Vuorinen & the Elora Singers performing in the Barn at the Elora Festival

The Elora Singers might be described as one of Canada's best kept secrets. A professional choir with a long history, dating back over 40 years, they are known in the UK for the quality of their performances without ever quite getting the sort of name recognition they deserve. They first came to my attention in 2017, when composer Patrick Hawes talked about their performances and recording of his music [see my interview] They have a fine catalogue of recordings, the most recent of which was their Christmas disc, Radiant Dawn. I recently chatted to their conductor, Mark Vuorinen (via Zoom) to learn more about the choir.

The choir is based in Elora, a town in South-West Ontario some 120 km from Toronto. This makes them unique in the Canadian cultural landscape as most professional choirs are based in the cities. Elora is a picturesque riverside town with an historic gorge. 43 years ago, The Elora Singers were formed as the choir in residence at the Elora Festival, devoted mainly to choral music and church music, with performances from the Elora Singers and visiting choirs in and around Elora. The Elora Singers is at the centre of the festival with eight to twelve concerts in three weeks, both on their own and with collaborators.

Mark Vuorinen
Mark Vuorinen

Friday, 13 May 2022

The Earth Moves: The Tallis Scholars in Antoine Brumel and David Lang

The Tallis Scholars (Photo Nick Rutter)
The Tallis Scholars (Photo Nick Rutter)

The Earth Moves
 - Antoine Brumel, Nicolas Gombert, David Lang; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Church of St Martin in the Fields
Reviewed 12 May 2022 (★★★★)

Pairing Brumel's astonishing Earthquake Mass with the UK premiere of David Lang's specially commissioned contemporary companion, to create a concert like no other

Missa Et ecce terræ motus by the Franco-Flemish composer Antoine Brumel (c.1460-c.1520), the so-called Earthquake Mass is one of those works that tends to be more talked about than performed, a work better known to singers than to audience members. It is somewhat sui generis, a 12-voice mass in which Brumel creates atmospheres and textures that are a long way from the densely worked polyphony of many of his contemporaries, in fact the work it most strongly resembles in terms of sound is Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet Spem in alium.

Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars performed Antoine Brumel's Missa Et ecce terræ motus at the church of St Martin in the Fields on Thursday 12 May 2022, pairing the work with the UK premiere of sun-centred by American composer David Lang (born 1957) which was commissioned by Phillips to go with the Brumel. The five movements of each work were interleaved, creating a single and striking whole.

A pupil of Josquin des Pres, Brumel is one of the few members of the Franco-Flemish school of composers who was actually French. He was fond of using canon in his masses, but apart from Missa Et ecce terræ motus all Brumel's other surviving masses are four-part. For Missa Et ecce terræ motus he took as his cantus firmus a fragment of plainchant from the Antiphon from the Lauds of Easter, 'And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the Angel of the Lord descended from heaven, alleluia'. This gave Brumel a motif that was hardly a melody at all. Creating a canon in three voices from it, stark and rather uninteresting harmonically, Brumel then surrounds this structure with extreme decoration. Philip Phillips describes it as being akin to Islamic art, 'static, non-representational, tirelessly inventive', but underneath there are those long notes of the basic canon, and this Brumel uses to give the work shape and structure.

Music & Maths: Iannis Xenakis at 100

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) is presenting Music and Maths, a one-day festival at Symphony Hall, CBSO Centre and The Exchange, Birmingham on 29 May 2022, devoted to the beauty of maths within music,  marking the centenary of music theorist Iannis Xenakis. The are two concerts from BCMG, a family drop-in workshop and talks from the University of Birmingham and PRiSM (Royal Northern College of Music). Xenakis' music will be performed alongside especially commissioned visuals created by mathematician Marcus de Sautoy and animator Simon Russell. There are also world premiere performances by Emily Howard and Samantha Fernando.

The festival marks the centenary of Iannis Xenakis, the music theorist, architect, performance director and engineer. In the 1950s, Iannis Xenakis was employed in Le Corbusier’s offices for architecture and was viewed as an outsider by many of his peers for his orchestral, vocal and electronic music. He applied maths, random probability and graphic software to sound, creating worlds previously unheard of. His musical pieces revealed both the inner simplicity and the complexities of music.

Full details from the BCMG website.

The Jubilee Elgar Festival in Worcester

English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods
English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods

What better way to celebrate the forthcoming Jubilee than a festival of English Music. The Jubilee Elgar Festival in Worcester runs from 3 to 5 June 2022, curated by artistic director Kenneth Woods with the English Symphony Orchestra in residence. The music of Elgar is the focus, but there is much else besides including premieres from Ian Venables, David Matthews and John Joubert.

The events begin with baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist Eric McElroy in a recital of songs by Elgar, and John Ireland plus some by McElroy and the premiere of one by the late John Joubert. And the centre-piece of the festival is the gala concert in Worcester Cathedral, when Kenneth Woods conducts the English Symphony Orchestra and Elgar Festival Chorus, with baritone Marcus Farnsworth, soprano April Fredrick in RVW's Festival Te Deum, Elgar's The Spirit of England and In the South (Alassio), and the premiere of the orchestral version of Ian Venables' The Song of the Severn.

Other events include Kenneth Woods conducting the English Symphony Orchestra in string music by Elgar, George Walker, and Doreen Carwithen, plus the premiere of a new piece by David Matthews; Worcester based Elgar Chorale presenting O Hearken Thou, psalm settings by Elgar and his contemporaries; George Parris and Carice Singers in a programme of part-songs by Elgar and by Coleridge-Taylor. There is also a family concert from ESO Youth Orchestra and members of the English Symphony Orchestra.

Full details from the Jubilee Elgar Festival website.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Saffron Hall's new season: from resident orchestras & distinguished visitors to Saffon Opera Group, plus Saffron Sessions, Saffron Foyer, and Saffron Sounds

Saffron Hall
Saffron Hall (Photo from visitessex.com)

Saffron Hall has announced its programme for Autumn 2022, from 11 September 2022 to 2 January 2023, with the return of the hall’s resident orchestras – Britten Sinfonia and London Philharmonic Orchestra – plus visits from the Dunedin Consort, English Touring Opera, Hallé Orchestra, Tenebrae and The Sixteen, with soloists and conductors including Karina Canellakis, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Jess Gillam, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Courtney Pine, Zoe Rahman and Anoushka Shankar.

The hall is also launching Saffron Sessions, a programme of creative, boundary-challenging performances including American pianist and composer Chad Lawson, Manchester Collective and Pekka Kuusisto. Also the informal Saffron Foyer nights return with jazz and folk artists including Katriona Taylor, Django’s Tiger and the Dan Forshaw Quartet.

However, performers don't just include distinguished visitors, there is plenty of local talent too. The season opens with Saffron Opera Group in Wagner’s Tannhäuser with tenor Peter Auty in the title role and Samantha Crawford as Elisabeth, conducted by Michael Thorne. Saffron Walden Choral Society perform Haydn’s Creation with Chameleon Arts Orchestra, whilst the Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra returns with violinist Alex Redington for a programme including Korngold’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.12 commemorating the 1917 revolution.

The hall is launching the second iteration of its education initiative Saffron Sounds. This is a an online resource hub, including filmed performances and demonstrations from the Jess Gillam ensemble, which will be available to all primary schools, and will be the starting point for a programme of workshops and live performances offered to schools across Essex and beyond. Artists from across the programme, including A4 Brass, will visit local primary schools for performances. 

This Autumn will also see the introduction of A morning with… events for secondary schools, featuring performances, masterclasses and Q&A’s from artists including Isata Kanneh-Mason. And Saffron Hall Trust continues to deliver Together in Sound - its music therapy programme for those living with dementia and their carers in Saffron Walden. Together in Sound is delivered in partnership with the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research at Anglia Ruskin University, and a pilot programme is now also underway in Braintree in partnership with Braintree District Museum. 

Saffron Hall is a 740-seat concert hall that opened in 2013 as a sustainable model of arts and community outreach. Sited in the grounds of Saffron Walden County High School, a comprehensive school in North Essex, Saffron Hall’s programme runs alongside an extensive Schools and Community programme. Since opening, the hall has engaged with over 40,000 participants and sold over 205,000 tickets, with 21% of audiences travelling 30 miles or more. 10% of tickets sold were to under 18s. Saffron Hall is a registered charity and receives no regular funding from the local authority or Arts Council England; it is solely reliant on donations from individuals, trusts and foundations and ticket sales.

 Full details from the Saffron Hall website.

Critics' Circle Music Awards for 2020/21

The Critics Circle
The Music Section of the Critics' Circle has just announced the winners of their awards for 2020 and 2021. The Awards are unique as they are decided by the country’s most experienced professional arts journalists and critics on the basis of hearing the widest range of performances across the UK and Ireland. 

And the Young Talent Awards applaud the way award winners have triumphantly overcome the hardships and challenges of the last two years to make significant breakthroughs in their careers. And this year's awards also includes recognition for the outstanding achievements of individuals and organisations in response to the uniquely adverse circumstances of the pandemic.

  • Young Talent (composer): Alex Ho, who has had a determinedly creative lockdown, putting out valuable works and winning major commissions at a difficult time. His AMAZON, one of the most original multi-media works to come out of lockdown, was commissioned by London Sinfonietta and Music Theatre Wales, and created over Zoom using stop-motion animation, narration and ingenious use of ‘found sounds’.
  • Young Talent (conductor): Jonathon Heyward, American by birth, he is proving an indispensable asset to British musical life. In 2020-21, he conducted Hannah Kendall’s The Knife of Dawn at Covent Garden, championed Elgar in Germany, and made a rapturously acclaimed Proms debut with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
  • Young Talent (voice): William Thomas, whose appearances in 2020/21 included Glyndebourne, Seattle Opera, his BBC Proms debut, Colline (La bohème) for ENO at Alexandra Palace and Sciarrone in Tosca for the company at Crystal Palace, and joining BBC New Generation Artists
  • Young Talent (piano): Nicolas Namoradze is a ceaseless hunter-out of unjustly forgotten repertoire – for example his championing of the works of York Bowen – and he is also a composer in his own right. And his neuroscientific research into how the brain processes music may alter the way musicians both practice pieces and learn them.
  • Lockdown Star: St Mary's Perivale, a tiny, Grade 1-listed redundant church in west London – has punched far above its weight with the range and quality of its streamed recitals. Dr Hugh Mather and the team – all volunteers – carried on with their three weekly recitals when Covid hit, providing young artists with paid employment and a platform during this hardest of times, raising their own funds, largely through donations, to pay the artists without any public subsidies.
    • There is also a special mention for Tom Poster and Elena Urioste for sheer joyousness, eclectic musical choices and beautiful playing in their streamed performances
    • And a special mention for the Wigmore Hall, an absolute beacon, and despite all its obvious advantages, the hall went far beyond what it needed to do.
  • Outstanding Achievement, Streaming and Digital
    • OperaGlass Works' Turn of the Screw, a highly creative response to circumstances and a satisfying digital product. Both musical and cinematic values were of the highest standard
    • VOPERA's L'enfant et les sortileges, something fresh and new in its blend of animation and live performance, as well as offering a meaningful and topical response to extraordinary circumstances
  • Outstanding Achievement in Opera
    • We wanted to express our admiration and gratitude to Birmingham Opera, and the late Graham Vick, for their extraordinary achievement over the years. This company, Vick’s brainchild, represents something unique in opera, and not only for the UK: a genuine attempt – and genuinely successful – to do something thoughtful, demanding and different (but not simply for the sake of it) – with huge imagination and energy, seeking to find what opera could mean in and for contemporary society.

Full details from the Critics Circle website.

Composer Joanna Marsh introduces her new piece, SEEN, and the way she worked with live electronics for the first time

Fiona Lindsay, Glen Scott, Joanna Marsh
Fiona Lindsay, Glen Scott, Joanna Marsh at rehearsals for Marsh's SEEN

Ahead of the 20 May world premiere of her new work SEEN, performed by the BBC Singers and conductor Sofie Jeannin, in this guest posting composer Joanna Marsh discusses a very different approach to her creative process, working with live electronics for the first time for a brand new BBC Radio 3 commission.

I began working on the commission that became SEEN in 2020, although my first conversations with the BBC Singers date from a few years ago. One thing we had loosely talked about was technology, and how it might be integrated into a choral piece. Whenever I have listened to an acoustic piece that has had added elements of electronics, I’ve always found the sonorities particularly mesmerising.

Electronics can create a greater sense of immersion provided by the mixture of sound sources, acoustic performers and amplification, but sometimes it’s the sheer surprise and delight that the actual sounds inspire.

By the time I got to work on the commission, I felt that my own music tech skills needed a brush up! I received an email from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama who were running a number of evening classes during the Covid-19 lockdown. Normally, I miss out on all these opportunities as I live in the Middle East, but when everything moved online I was able to attend a Music Production course run by producer, multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer Glen Scott.

Almost immediately on undertaking this course I realised that Glen had exactly the skill set that would complement mine for this commission. My instincts proved correct, and Glen has been incredible to work with. His ‘musical ear’ is second to none and he has a real vision for what can be achieved.

I also had to think about who might provide the ‘lyrics’ for the piece. I’m always interested in the ways in which themes from the distant past can resonate strongly in our modern lives. A mutual friend connected me with writer and creative producer Fiona Lindsay, who has expert knowledge of classical texts through her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

When we first spoke, she had been producing a documentary series for Digital Theatre on themes connecting key women in Greek plays, and I was transfixed! Fiona is particularly interested in the notion of strong female voices in Greek theatre who over time have been marginalised, their voices obfuscated and warped because male writers were control of the narrative.

The characters in SEEN provide a lens to focus on the voices of all those that have been marginalised and is a call to action to reclaim the narrative and be seen. What I particularly like is the way in which the technology used in the piece actually masks the voices, echoing the meaning of the lyrics where the truth has been previously veiled.

There is more harmonic space in the piece than I might normally allow – this enables Glen to add effects that have time to play out without cacophony ensuing. There is a consistent crotchet pulse for the duration of the piece which is 178 beats per minute, inspired in part by the way melody and pulse function together in R&B songs.

Composition can be very solitary work, so this commission provided a refreshing change to the way I normally create music. Somehow, sharing the process with Glen and Fiona made the creation of the piece feel a bit more like a puzzle or a game, rather than solitary labour, and I really benefited from their expertise and input.

Something surprising that came to light when we workshopped SEEN in March was how different the listening experience was, comparing the electronic influences to a purely acoustic work. The live effects added a great deal of space and we felt absorbed into this vastness, as listeners – it was incredibly immersive. The rhythmic heartbeat that runs through the 20-minute piece at times gives it an almost hypnotic feel.

There are so many more ways this work could be performed, and it’s not limited to a small concert hall due to the amplification used. I would love it to take on a new guise in a theatrical setting – perhaps taken on by a dance company, adding movement to the space itself. These are new avenues for my work that I am keen to explore.

It feels quite different having other people be as invested in a work from the early stages of development, and the conversations Glen, Fiona and I had were fascinating, inspiring and often involved a great deal of laughter! Having never worked so collaboratively before, I did wonder beforehand whether it might limit my creativity, but I was absolutely proved wrong. We were all working on completely separate creative pillars within the work and bringing that together for the world premiere later this month will be a real privilege.
Sofi Jeannin, BBC Singers & Glen Scott rehearsing Joanna Marsh's SEEN
Sofi Jeannin, BBC Singers & Glen Scott rehearsing Joanna Marsh's SEEN

SEEN
receives its world premiere at the Barbican’s Milton Court on 20 May 2022 in a concert by the BBC Singers, conductor Sofie Jeannin. Tickets are priced from £12, available via the Barbican box office

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

A Stylophone Orchestra, an Ondes Martenot, Tea and Cake: Welcome to the amazing world of Arctic Circle's Daylight Music

Kingston University Stylophone Orchestra, Jay Chakravorty + Josh Semans
Kingston University Stylophone Orchestra, Jay Chakravorty + Josh Semans
Playing the Future (21 May, St John on Bethnal Green) 

Arctic Circle's Daylight Music is a concert series that runs at midday on Saturdays in East London. Each event, which welcomes all ages, is an afternoon together with music, tea and cake in a welcoming space in London,  providing audiences with a first experience in music, a re-introduction or just the latest musical matchmaking.

The current season has been running since March, but there is still plenty left to enjoy with a series of concerts at St John on Bethnal Green (E2 9PA) and St John's Leytonstone (E11 1HH), and none of the line-ups is quite what you'd expect, making for an intriguing experience.

Next up is Playing the Future (21 May, St John on Bethnal Green) which features the Kingston University Stylophone Orchestra, Jay Chakravorty and Josh Semans. Believed to be the only ensemble of its kind in the world, Kingston University Stylophone Orchestra (I kid you not) was created in 2019 when Dubreq (the company that manufactures the Stylophone) donated a car boot full of instruments to the University’s music dept. Now expanded to include other hand-held, battery-powered (cheap) synths, the Stylophone Orchestra released their debut album Stylophonika in early 2022. Jay Chakravorty is a Welsh-Indian-Irish composer and multi-instrumentalist, writing emotive post-classical music for pianos, analogue/modular synths, and string ensembles. Josh Semans is an ondes Martenot player, composer, and producer based in the north-west of England. His work is uniquely textured, employing a range of instruments, sound-sources, and processes.

Space In This Place (4 June, St John on Bethnal Green) features Minihi, comprising percussionists and composers Zands and Louise Anna Duggan, Rattle, the drums and vocals duo Katharine Eira Brown & Theresa Wrigley, and improvising recorder player Fatima Lahham. Outside of the Box (18 June, St John's Leytonstone) features Guido Spannochi Quartet, featuring Vienna-born London based saxophonist Guido Spannochi, Tony Bianco, an American jazz drummer and composer, and Khabat Abasis an Iraqi Kurdish artist her work reflects on socio-political circumstances in Iraqi Kurdistan. Lost Map (16 July, St John, Bethnal Green) features three very different vocalists Gordon McIntyre, Emma Kupa, and Alexia Avina.

Full information from Daylight Music's website.

Samuel Barber: The Complete Songs, Dylan Perez & friends survey nearly 50 years of the composer's songs including those unpublished during his lifetime

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) - The Complete Songs - Resonus Classics
Samuel Barber (1910-1981) - The Complete Songs; Fleur Barron, Mary Bevan, Samantha Clarke, Jess Dandy, Louise Kemény, Soraya Mafi, Julien Van Mellaerts, Dominic Sedgwick, Nicky Spence, William Thomas, Navarra String Quartet, Dylan Perez; Resonus Classics
Reviewed 10 May 2022 (★★★) 

An amazing achievement, pianist Dylan Perez and a fine array of young singers in a survey of Barber's complete songs from 1924 through to 1972

This new set from pianist Dylan Perez is almost the record set that you didn't know that you needed. Samuel Barber's songs are much anthologised, we all know a selection of them but few people actually concentrate on the whole corpus and, frankly, when did you last hear a complete performance of his major cycle Hermit Songs.

So, over two discs from Resonus Classics, pianist Dylan Perez is joined by a fine array of young talent, Fleur Barron, Mary Bevan, Samantha Clarke, Jess Dandy, Louise Kemeny, Soraya Mafi, Julien Van Mellaerts, Dominic Sedgwick, Nicky Spence and William Thomas, plus the Navarra String Quartet, for Samuel Barber's complete songs, both those published during his lifetime (with opus numbers) and those only published posthumously. We also get Dover Beach, for baritone and string quartet, and the premiere recording of Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in the composer's own piano version. That is a lot of songs (67 in fact) for a composer whose most famous work, by a long chalk, is a string piece adapted from a string quartet.

But singing and song was threaded through Barber's early life. His mother's sister was the contralto Louise Homer, who was member of the Metropolitan Opera from 1900 to 1929. Her husband was the composer Sidney Homer, a composer who concentrated on song and who wrote extensively for his wife. Sidney Homer would mentor Samuel Barber and many of the early songs (on the second disc) were performed by Louise Homer. Barber's own studies at the Curtis Institute including voice and for a short period he had a career as a professional baritone, making a recording of Dover Beach. The repertoire on the discs spreads right across Barber's compositional life from the mid 1920s (when he was in his teens) right through to 1972. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Ryan Wigglesworth makes his debut as chief conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, launching its 2022/23 season

Ryan Wigglesworth (Photo BBC)
Ryan Wigglesworth (Photo BBC)

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's 2022/23 season sees Ryan Wigglesworth take up the reins as chief conductor. Wigglesworth starts things off conducting Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe (the complete ballet) and Messiaen, and then the following evening Wigglesworth is the pianist with principals from the orchestra in Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. Marking 30 years since the composer's death, Wigglesworth's Messiaen performances during the season also include The Sermon to the Birds from Saint François D'Assise.

Intriguingly, Wigglesworth is the first composer to direct the orchestra since its founder Ian Whyte, and in an interview with The Scotsman, Wigglesworth said, "My approach to conducting stems from being, first and foremost, a composer. I can only ever approach a work from that perspective: how the composer has put things together, how they did this or that. The flip side applies, too. By conducting the works of great composers, I’m learning how to be a better composer myself. I’ve never really separated the two."

Wigglesworth will also be conducting the UK premiere of Hans Abrahamsen’s Vers le silence, marking the start of Abrahamsen’s role as the orchestra’s new Composer-in-Association. And in the same concert, Wigglesworth conducts his own symphonic adaptation of Wagner's Götterdämmerung with soprano Katherine Broderick. He will also be directing the premieres of two BBC commissions, Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Cello Concerto (with Laura van der Heijden as soloist) and a new work from Jonathan Woolgar.

Other premieres during the season include a new Abel Selaocoe work, whilst principal guest conductor, Ilan Volkov, will give the UK premieres of Øyvind Torvund’s Exotica album and Stefan Prinsunder_current with Yaron Deutsch (electric guitar). Volkov also curates the orchestra's new music festival, Tectonics Glasgow, which returns in April 2023.

Martyn Brabbins, who has been associated with the orchestra for three decades, marks Vaughan Williams' 150th anniversary with his Fifth Symphony and the s score for Scott of the Antarctic alongside a screening of the film. Brabbins also makes his debut as a composer with the orchestra with a short work written for two of the orchestra’s principal violas, to be premiered with another by Sir James MacMillan, as part of an afternoon concert of overlooked Scottish works.

Full details from the BBC Symphony Orchestra's website.

Music at Paxton: ten days of music in a glorious Scottish Borders setting

Paxton House
Paxton House (Photo Paxton House)
Back in 2015, I wrote about Music at Paxton's celebrations for the 10th festival [see my article], then finally last year I was able to visit the house for the first time (alas, not during the festival). This year the festival runs from 22 to 31 July 2022 at Paxton House in the Scottish Borders. Paxton was designed in the late 18th century by the Adam family, has glorious Regency additions (notably a picture gallery where concerts are held) as well as a fine collection of Chippendale furniture.

This year baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan open the festival with a celebration of RVW's 150th birthday mixing his songs with a new commission from Sarah Cattley, and as part of the Momentum scheme, Williams will be joined by baritone Jerome Knox (winner of the 2020 Handel Singing Competition) to perform part of the programme. The Maxwell Quartet is in residence, and it will be performing Brahms, Haydn, and Roxanna Panufnik’s The Audience (with tenor Jamie MacDougall as part of Visit Scotland's Year of Stories). Pianist Pavel Kolesnikov celebrates the centenary of Marcel Proust with music by Schubert, Couperin, Hahn (one of Proust's lovers), Fauré and Franck, as well as giving a duo-recital with Samson Tsoy.

Other visitors include Sarah Connolly and James Middleton giving the Scottish première of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Songs of Sleep and Regret plus music by Samuel Barber, Chausson and Kurt Weill. Pianist Angela Hewitt closes the festival with music by Mozart, Bach and Chopin

Young artists at the festival include Ellie McLaren (fiddle), Ciar Milne (small pipes), Echéa Quartet, Ryan Corbett (accordion), Mithras Piano Trio,  Megan McDonald (accordion),  Calum McIlroy (voice, guitar, mandolin), and Sophie Rocks (harp).

Full details from the Music at Paxton website.

Denys Darlow founded the Tilford Bach Festival to present the music of his favourite composer in his own parish church and 70 years later it is still going strong

All Saints' Church, Tilford, home of the Tilford Bach Festival
All Saints' Church, Tilford, home of the Tilford Bach Festival

The Tilford Bach Festival is 70 this year and the festival is celebrating with a weekend of events from 10 to 12 June 2022. The festival was founded in 1952 by Denys Darlow, who was the organist at All Saints’ Parish church, Tilford, a village in the west of Surrey (famous former residents include Arthur Conan Doyle and Lloyd George). Darlow's personal aim was that all performances should be fully professional and of the highest quality so as to entice soloists of international renown to come to a small church in a tiny village situated several dark, winding miles from the nearest railway station. By 1955, the BBC were broadcasting from the festival. In 1973, Darlow (then 73 years old) decided to share the direction of the festival, but he would not completely hang up his baton until 2002. Adrian Butterfield is now festival director.

This year, the festival takes place at St Luke's Church, Grayshott, GU26 6LF as Tilford Church is in need of repairs. The festival opens with Laurence Cummings (a former festival director) directing the London Handel Players in an evening of concertos, placing Bach's concertos for multiple instruments (two harpsichords; harpsichord and two recorders; flute, violin and harpsichord) alongside concertos by his contemporaries Vivaldi and Leclair.

On Saturday there is Bach's St Matthew Passion performed with the sort of forces Bach would have recognised, using just nine singers with Adrian Butterfield directing the London Handel Players and soloists including Joanne Lunn, Daniel Taylor, Charles Daniels (Evangelist) and Edward Grint (Jesus). Then on Sunday, Ensemble Augelletti bring their programme The Library of a Prussian Princess [also recorded on disc, see my review] featuring music associated with Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia (1723-1787), whose library included many important manuscripts associated with JS Bach

Boulevard des Italiens: tenor Benjamin Bernheim explores Paris' long love-affair with French composers

Boulevard des Italiens: arias in French by Cherubini, Spontini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni; Benjamin Bernheim, Orchestra del Teatro Communale di Bologna, Frédéric Chaslin; Deutsche Grammophon

Boulevard des Italiens:
 arias in French by Cherubini, Spontini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni; Benjamin Bernheim, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Frédéric Chaslin; Deutsche Grammophon
Reviewed 9 May 2022 (★★★★★)

Tenor Benjamin Bernheim bring style and passion to a recital that explores French opera's long love affair with Italian composers.  

With the opening number of his new recital, Benjamin Bernheim firmly sets a stake in the ground. 'Adieu, séjour fleuri' is from the French premiere of Puccini's Madame Butterfly, given in French translation but in a revised version by the composer which was then transferred to become the standard Italian one. This is a disc of music by Italian composers working in France and working in French. 

For Boulevard des Italiens, tenor Benjamin Bernheim joins the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conductor Frédéric Chaslin on Deutsche Grammophon for arias by Cherubini, Spontini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and Mascagni. This is a mix of composers working in French and French versions of Italian operas. Both Cherubini and Spontini based themselves in Paris, writing in French and having a significant effect on the development of French opera. Another important visitor is missing, Meyerbeer, though he was Italian trained he was in fact German. Both Donizetti and Verdi had their Italian operas performed in Italian at the Theatre Italiens, but for the Paris Opera and other companies,  French was the norm. And both took some pains with the the creation of specifically French music. 

And the music is often something of challenge to modern tenors as it requires different virtues to the Italian repertoire - a different approach both to emission (thanks to the French language) and to top notes (with the fondness for using what we might call head voice). These are all aspects that Bernheim understands and what is so lovely about the recital is the way he combines technical facility with style, language and a compelling sense of drama.

Monday, 9 May 2022

Winds of Change: a survey of Ruth Gipps' wind chamber music from 1943 through to 1995

Ruth Gipps - Winds of Change - Three Worlds Records
Ruth Gipps - Wind chamber music;  Ben Goldscheider, Huw Watkins, Mary Bevan, Ruth Rosales, Hannah von Wiehler, London Chamber Orchestra; Three Worlds Records
Reviewed 2 May 2022 (★★★½)

An imaginative survey spanning the whole of Gipps career, concentrating on her chamber music for wind right through to one of her last works.

Having recorded her Horn Concerto [see my review], Ben Goldscheider has recorded a disc of Ruth Gipps' chamber music for wind, Winds of Change on Three Worlds Records. Goldscheider is joined by pianist Huw Watkins, soprano Mary Bevan, narrator Ruth Rosales, conductor Hannah von Wiehler and members of the London Chamber Orchestra for a disc which moves across the whole of Gipps career, including the Sonatina for horn and piano, Wind Octet, Wind Sinfonietta, and Sonata for alto trombone (or horn) and piano along with numerous smaller items.

Whilst Ruth Gipps did not live under the radar as far as her career was concerned - she was the first female conductor to conduct at the Royal Festival Hall, and had many other firsts as well - her music was determinedly not aligned to prevailing post-war orthodoxies. Like her friend Malcolm Arnold, Gipps' music fell out of circulation and the struggle that she had because of gender prejudice also played a big role. 

The horn features strongly in her output partly because her son (for whom the Horn Concerto was written) was a horn player. Gipps died in 1999 and last year was her centenary, yet only now is her wonderfully well-made music coming out of hibernation. The music on the disc covers a wide range of her career from 1943 to 1995, a remarkable testament to her strength of mind, continuing to compose and perform even though lacking encouragement from the mainstream. The sound of her teacher, RVW, along with Bliss and Bridge, features strongly in this music. The album is arranged chronologically which means we can hear how her sound-world developed.

The Seven Works of Mercy: a new song cycle inspired by the medieval murals in Pickering church

Children at one of the Easter workshops for Joseph Howard's Seven Mercies
Children at one of the Easter workshops for Joseph Howard's Seven Works of Mercy

A new partnership between the Ryedale Festival and the Richard Shephard Music Foundation is involving school children and community groups in a new song cycle inspired by the murals of Pickering Church. The medieval murals depicting The Seven Works of Mercy are relatively unusual in that all seven survive. The Seven Works of Mercy are a less well-known counterpart to the Seven Deadly Sins: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, visiting the sick and burying the dead. 

Composer Joseph Howard has written a new song cycle, for solo voice and piano, with contributions being made by around 40 children from local primary schools, an adult community-based choir, and the church’s bell ringing society. The words by Emma Howard explore what these seven acts might mean in a 21st century context and offer a hymn of praise to small, everyday acts of kindness and bravery.

The performers include children from three local primary schools, including St Joseph’s RC Primary in Pickering where composer Joseph Howard attended himself, along with mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge and pianist Christopher Glynn (artistic director of the Ryedale Festival).

Seven Mercies at Pickering Church (Photo Gerard Collett)
Seven Mercies at Pickering Church (Photo Gerard Collett)

The performance takes places on Saturday 21 May 2022 at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering. Full details from the Ryedale Festival website.


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