Monday 31 October 2022

Beyond Orientalism: Orpha Phelan's imaginative new production of Félicien David's Lalla-Roukh at Wexford Festival

David: Lalla-Roukh - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

Félicien David: Lalla-Roukh; Gabrielle Philiponet, Pablo Bemsch, Ben McAteer, Niamh O'Sullivan, director: Orpha Phelan, conductor Steven White; Wexford Festival Opera at the National Opera House, Wexford
Reviewed 30 October 2022 (★★★★)

David's delightful Orientalist fantasy in an imaginative translocation with winning performances from an international cast

Wexford Festival Opera staged Félicien David's 1859 opera Herculaneum in 2016; the composer's only fully sung grand opera; his other four stage works were all written as opera comique with spoken dialogue.  As part of the 2022 Magic and Music season, Wexford Festival Opera staged Félicien David's Lalla-Roukh, written in 1862 for the Opéra Comique but having a local connection as the libretto is based on the eponymous poem by Irish poet Thomas Moore, whose mother was from Wexford.

We caught a performance on 30 October 2022 in the O'Reilly Theatre at the National Opera House, Wexford. Orpha Phelan directed, Steven White conducted, designs were by Madeleine Boyd, lighting by D M Wood, choreography by Amy Share-Kissiov. Gabrielle Philiponet was Lalla-Roukh, Pablo Bemsch was Nourreddin, Ben McAteer was Baskir, Niamh O'Sullivan was Mirza, plus Emyr Wyn Jones and Thomas D Hopkinson, and Lorcan Cranitch as the narrator.

David: Lalla-Roukh - Pablo Bemsch - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh - Pablo Bemsch - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

The opera was sung in Michel Carré and Hippolyte Lucas' original French whilst the original dialogue was replaced by new narration in rhyming couplets by Timothy Knapman.

Sunday 30 October 2022

Barbara Hannigan conducts Stravinsky & Knussen as part of a collaborative project between the Royal Academy of Music and the Juilliard School

Alexandra Beason, Barbara Hannigan, Lisa Dafydd, Elizabeth Green at the Royal Academy of Music
Alexandra Beason, Barbara Hannigan, Lisa Dafydd, Elizabeth Green at the Royal Academy of Music

Stravinsky, Delage, Knussen; students from Royal Academy of Music and the Juilliard School, Barbara Hannigan, Charlotte Corderoy; Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music
Reviewed 28 October 2022

Responsiveness and accuracy, poise and enjoyment, Barbara Hannigan directed students in a wonderfully intelligent and engaging lunchtime recital

For 20 years, the Royal Academy of Music and the Juilliard School have enjoyed a close relationship, collaborating on projects as diverse as co-commissioning Peter Maxwell Davies' opera Kommilitonen!, recording Gabrieli's brass music and performing with Elton John at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The latest such collaboration culminated in a concert in the Academy's Duke's Hall on Friday 29 October 2022, when Barbara Hannigan conducted an orchestra of musicians from the Academy and the Juilliard, Hannigan's first residency at the Academy. The programme consisted of Stravinsky's Concerto in E flat 'Dumbarton Oaks', Two Poems of Balmont, Three Japanese Lyrics and Octet, Maurice Delage's Quatre Poèmes Hindous, and Oliver Knussen's Requiem: Songs for Sue. The soprano soloists were Alexandra Beason (Stravinsky), Lisa Dafydd (Delage) and Elizabeth Green (Knussen). Assistant conductor Charlotte Corderoy conducted the Delage, and Barbara Hannigan also payed tribute to another assistant conductor (whose name I did not catch) who had done a lot of background work on the Knussen piece.

Friday 28 October 2022

The Crown: American counter-tenor Randall Scotting his disc of arias written for the castrato Senesino and the research that went into creating it

Randall Scotting (Photo Joel Benjamin)
Randall Scotting (Photo Joel Benjamin)

Despite living in London for eight years, the American counter-tenor Randall Scotting is not a well-known name on these shores. However, having made his Royal Opera House debut in 2019 as Apollo in Britten's Death in Venice and just released his debut recital disc, The Crown: Heroic Arias for Senesino, with Laurence Cummings and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) on Signum Classics, that should be about to change. And we caught Randall singing the role of the Refugee in Jonathan Dove's Flight in a filmed performance from Seattle Opera [see my review].

The repertoire on the new disc, arias by Bononcini, Ariosti, Giaj, Orlandini, Ristori, Giacomelli, and Lotti, is very much the fruit of Randall's years in London when he was working on a Ph D at the Royal College of Music, researching into lesser-known Baroque composers. The disc assembles arias written for the great castrato Senesino, best known for creating a sequence of major roles for Handel. Randall explains that as well as creating over a dozen roles for Handel, Senesino had a huge European reputation during the 1720s and 1730s and was very much a superstar.

People nowadays know Senesino's name, but not the significant amount of music that was written for him. Randall's research for his Ph D involved locating music in archives and creating editions, thus feeding directly into this disc. Randall enjoys this sense of being involved in the rediscovery of the music, but by looking at the arias written for Senesino, Randall also learned a great deal more about the castrato's voice.

Reflections on All the Ends of the World: violinist Lizzie Ball on her project with The Sixteen to highlight climate change and global warming

Image from Heather Britton's film for All the Ends of the World
Image from Heather Britton's film for All the Ends of the World

All the Ends of the World
 is a collaboration between videographer Heather Britton, violinist Lizzie Ball and The Sixteen which combines plainchant, choral music, polyphony, free improvisation and stunning imagery. Created to demonstrate the long lasting and dramatic effects of climate change and global warming, the concert will explore our relationship with the planet we live on. Here, Lizzie Ball explains how the project developed.

All the Ends of the World came about after a pretty unique collaboration between The Sixteen, Harry Christophers and I (as both a performer and producer of Classical Kicks), almost 3 years ago to the day. In Nov 2019, (pre-armageddon), the richly atmospheric walls of the one and only Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club hosted the likes of plainchant, polyphony and Purcell for the very first time thanks to an invitation from Club owner and supporter of The Sixteen, Michael Watt. The club warmly welcomed The Sixteen together with me and an all-star line-up, including: the club’s Artistic Director and co -curator of the event James Pearson, accordion superstar Martynas Levickis, rapper and artist Isatta Sheriff, percussionist James Turner, and bass player Tim Thornton. Woven within the world of choral perfection were re-imaginings of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom, bluegrass medleys, and even some Mexican boleros! Such has always been the flavour of any Classical Kicks event; it has always been wide in its musical offering and aims to be striking in its quality and impact.  

Arctic Circle's innovative daytime concerts series, Daylight Music, returns to Bethnal Green and Leytonstone with a visit to Faversham too

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble at Daylight Music, St Matthias, Stoke Newington (Photo Paul Hudson)
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble at Daylight Music, St Matthias, Stoke Newington (Photo Paul Hudson)

Arctic Circle's Daylight Music series has been running since 2009, providing innovate daytime concerts at weekends in Bethnal Green, Leytonstone and further. The Autumn 2022 season runs from 5 November to 11 December 2022, with a wide variety of styles and musical influences on offer. And as the temperature drops, there is music from improvisations inspired by hundreds of years of history from Hildegard von Bingen to the latest graduates from the Goldsmith Music department, whilst December features their first event outside London, at The Hot Tin in Faversham.

Things kick off at St John's Leytonstone on 5/11/2022 with the Guido Spannocchi Quartet led by the the Vienna born London based saxophonist, plus New York-based cellist composer Clarice Jensen and the jazz duo Brackenbury Bianco which features American jazz drummer Tony Bianco.

Other events include Lomond Campbell, Seaming To and Lara Jones presented as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, a collaboration with Goldsmiths Music which features Iris Garrelfs with Goldsmiths Improvisors’ Collective which brings together students and staff plus clarinettist Pete Furniss who is a lecturer at Goldsmiths, a band which arose out of lockdown performances Home is where the music is with Beth Hopkins (saxophone and vocals), Jelly Cleaver (guitarist and songwriter) and China Bowls (singer songwriter), and finally Lost Map presents Pictish Trail’s Highland Grotto as Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail gathers in East London some of his label collective of musicians and contemporaries from around the map.

Full details from the Daylight Music website.

By this river: Pascal Schumacher reinterprets the Brian Eno classic

Luxembourg-born vibraphonist & composer Pascal Schumacher released his album, LUNA earlier this year and in March he and I chatted about it [see my interview]. Now Schumacher has released a new single, By this river reinterpreting a Brian Eno number. Of the new version, Schumacher says "I had the idea of trying out this piece with my instrument setup a long time ago. I disassembled it because it doesn't need much information. It's so logical and clear... I'm a big fan of Brian Eno, I always have been."

By this river is available on YouTube and released by Neue Meister.

Inspired by William Blake: St James's Piccadilly's season celebrating the visionary poet

28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in an illustration of 1912. Blake was born here and lived here until he was 25. The house was demolished in 1965
28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in 1912.
Blake was born here and lived here until he was 25.
The house was demolished in 1965

William Blake was baptised at St James's Church, Piccadilly on 11 December 1757 (despite the fact that his parents were Dissenters). In celebration of this anniversary, the church is presenting a season of events, programmed in collaboration with The Blake Society. Visions & Voices Festival: Echoes of William Blake runs from 12 November to 11 December 2022.

On the anniversary of Blake's baptism, there is a concert by The Blake Singers, a new choir specializing in the performance of choral settings of poetry and literature formed by Didier Rochard and Sarah Rennix, with scholars and graduates from music colleges. The concert will include Blake settings by Tavener and Elgar, alongside contemporary composers such as Gabriel Jackson, plus RVW's Blake Songs and Britten's Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

Other events include The Westbrook Blake, jazz legend Mike Westbrook's settings of Blake's poetry, originally written in 1971 for the National Theatre production of Adrian Mitchell’s Tyger, singer/composer Susheela Raman and guitarist Sam Mills exploring Blake's poetry alongside spoken word performances by Jason Whittaker, and former beatbox champions Reeps One and Bellatrix in an event called Channelling: Human Voice as a method of introspection.

Full details from the church's website.

Thursday 27 October 2022

Pianist Julian Jacobson's birthday marathon

Julian Jacobson - Beethoven Marathon

Pianist Julian Jacobson will be celebrating his 75th birthday with a Beethoven Marathon. On Saturday 12 November 2022, Jacobson will be playing all 32 of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas from memory at St John's Church, Waterloo. Jacobson will perform the sonatas in numerical order, split into three sessions, Morning - sonatas 1 to 12, Afternoon - sonatas 13 to 26, Evening - sonatas 27 to 32. Six days later, Jacobson will be repeating the marathon in Uruguay, on his actual birthday.

This is not the first time that Jacobson has undertaken the feat, in 2003 he performed all the sonatas in a day at St James' Church, Piccadilly, in aid of Wateraid, and repeated the marathon in 2013 at the church of St Martin in the Fields.

Full details from Eventbrite.

In search of eternal life: creating my cantata Et expecto resurrectionem - cryogenics, Burke & Hare, Frankenstein and more

Walt Whitman, age 35, from the frontispiece to Leaves of Grass, July 1854
Walt Whitman, age 35, July 1854
from the frontispiece to Leaves of Grass 

Robert Hugill: Et expecto resurrectionem, cantata for tenor, baritone and piano, will be premiered by Ben Vonberg-Clark (tenor), James Atkinson (baritone) and Nigel Foster (piano) at the concert Out of the Shadows at Hinde Street Methodist Church on Friday 3 February 2023 [further details]. 

My cantata Et expecto resurrectionem looks at ideas of resurrection and eternal life, starting with the Latin creed and moving through cryogenics, body snatchers, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, ending with a passage from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The work had quite a complex genesis, having started out almost as a different work entirely and along the way it spawned my short opera The Genesis of Frankenstein

One Sunday in 2015, I was sitting in the choir at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Chelsea during Latin mass, waiting for the choir's next piece and rather wool-gathering. At such moments I rather get ideas for music and having just sung the Latin Creed I was mulling over the idea of creating a work exploring life after death, expanding on the phrase 'Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum'.

The problem was, the more I thought about the idea later, the more trouble I had finding texts that I wanted to set. My original idea had been simply a religious work exploring what resurrection meant. But having coffee with a singer friend, to whom I mentioned my difficulties, she responded with the idea of expanding what resurrection might mean.

So, I proceeded to explore subjects such as Cryogenics, the early 19th-century Edinburgh body snatchers Burke and Hare, and even Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, making the cantata less about the religious idea of resurrection and more about man's desperate search for life after death.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

'The Swedish Nightingale' and 'Letters from Home', my final visit to the Oxford Lieder Festival

Alex Ho: Letters from Home; The Swedish Nightingale - Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann; Jia Huang, Satoshi Kubo, Camilla Tilling, Paul Rivinius; Oxford Lieder Festival
Alex Ho: Letters from Home; The Swedish Nightingale - Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann; Jia Huang, Satoshi Kubo, Camilla Tilling, Paul Rivinius; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed 25 October 2022 (★★★★)

Alex Ho's touching cycle about a Chinese father's relationship to his distant son, alongside Camilla Tilling's engaging evocation of the concert life of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind

My second day at the Oxford Lieder Festival (25 October 2022) ended with the evening recital from soprano Camilla Tilling and pianist Paul Rivinius at the church of St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road. They presented their programme The Swedish Nightingale about the soprano Jenny Lind and featuring songs and piano pieces by Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann. At the beginning of the evening, two of the festival's emerging artists, baritone Jia Huang and pianist Satoshi Kubo performed Letters from Home by Alex Ho, the festival's new associate composer.

Alex Ho's first commission from the festival is premiered today (26 October 2022), but as a sort of preview, Jia Huang and Satoshi Kubo performed Ho's 2020 cycle Letters from Home setting poems by Theophilius Kwek. The four poems (largely in English but with some Chinese phrases) depict the complex relationship between father and son as the son leaves China to live in Britain, the first three being letters from father to son, getting progressively more intense and anxious, the final one being the son's repeated attempts to write to his father. Ho's language was largely tonal, combining complex piano writing with more straightforwardly lyric vocal writing, mixing in some Chinese and elements of spoken text.

Julian Phillips new piece alongside Britten and Schubert in a wonderfully imaginative programme for tenor, horn and piano at Oxford Lieder Festival

Julian Phillips: The Country of Larks, Britten: Canticle III: Still falls the rain, Schubert: Auf dem Strom, Brahms, Beach; Stuart Jackson, George Strivens, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Festival

Julian Phillips: The Country of Larks, Britten: Canticle III: Still falls the rain, Schubert: Auf dem Strom, Brahms, Beach; Stuart Jackson, George Strivens, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed 25 October 2022 (★★★★½)

A wonderfully imaginative programme combining three different approaches to tenor, horn and piano, including Julian Phillip's striking new Robert Louis Stevenson setting

Stuart Jackson was supposed to premiere Julian Phillips' The Country of Larks at the Oxford Lieder Festival in 2021, alas illness prevented this and the premiere actually took place in Ludlow this Spring, but the work returned to Oxford on 25 October 2022, when tenor Stuart Jackson, horn player George Strivens and pianist Jocelyn Freeman gave a revised version of that planned 2021 recital at the Holywell Music Rooms for the early evening concert at Oxford Lieder Festival. Written for tenor, horn and piano, Julian Phillips' The Country of Larks was paired with Britten's Canticle III: Still falls the rain and Schubert's Auf dem Strom, plus songs by Brahms and Amy Beach.

Richly serious: mezzo-soprano Yajie Zhang and pianist Hartmut Höll in Brahms and Mahler in Oxford

Brahms: Songs Op. 59, Mahler: Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, 'Der Abschied' (Das Lied von der Erde); Yajie Zhang, Hartmut Höll; Oxford Lieder Festival
Brahms: Songs Op. 59, Mahler: Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, 'Der Abschied' (Das Lied von der Erde); Yajie Zhang, Hartmut Höll; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed 25 October 2022 (★★★★)

The Chinese mezzo-soprano's wonderfully warm, rich voice brings a strong sculptural quality and an inner seriousness to songs by Brahms and Mahler

Yajie Zhang is a young Chinese mezzo-soprano who has been a member of the Young Singers Programme at Bavarian State Opera and has just joined the ensemble at Oper Leipzig. With pianist Hartmut Höll, she gave the lunchtime recital at the Oxford Lieder Festival on Tuesday 25 October 2022 at the Holywell Music Room. Their programme consisted of a selection from Brahms' Songs Op. 59 (from 1873), Mahler's Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen (from 1884-85) and Der Abschied from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.

With their subjects of love and nature, the five Brahms songs almost prefigured the Mahler. Yajie Zhang has a dark, focused voice with a lovely lower register and an easy top. Both in manner and style, she seems fitted for the serious and the intense. 'Dämmrung senkte sich von oben' was sober and intent, developing impulsive drama before sinking into the deep dark. 'Auf dem See' was full of joyful anticipation yet with a serious undertow. Despite the urgency of her performance, 'Eine gute, gute Nacht' was full of sober drama. This became stormy indeed in 'Mein wundes Herz verlangt'. At first urgent, then gentler, the Brahms group ended with 'Dein blaues Auge', again serious and intent.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

A month of premieres from BCMG including four supported by its Sound Investment scheme

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

Over three concerts in November, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) will be premiering five works, four of which were commissioned through BCMG's Sound Investment scheme. The three concerts will feature new works by Edmund Hunt, George Lewis, Julian Anderson and Melinda Maxwell which involved live electronics, motion sensor technology and improvisation.

Edmund Hunt's The Waking of Angantry, uses live electronics alongside a 15-strong ensemble and BCMG premieres the work at a concert, Illusions (6/11/2022 at the CBSO Centre) alongside music by Richard Baker, including The Tyranny of Fun. Inspired by the electronic sounds of the 1980s New York gay disco scene, the piece hints at the menace behind the hedonistic atmosphere and uses live electronics and motion sensor technology.

Later in November, BCMG is presenting a weekend of new music at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. BCMG’s NEXT musicians join the Thallein Ensemble for a celebration of the music of George Lewis, a pioneer in experimental electronic music (18/11/2022). BMCG NEXT is a collaboration between BCMG and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire offering a training programme for music students and professional musicians looking for a career as performers in contemporary music. 

The weekend continues with oboist and composer Melinda Maxwell's premiere of her new piece Janus (19/11/2022) for improvising musicians, Maxwell is interested in exploring the space between composing and improvisation. The final event of the weekend, American Dream (20/11/2022) will feature work by American composers, the premiere of George Lewis' Breaking, and the UK premiere of Elliott Carter's The American Sublime, alongside the premiere of Julian Anderson's Nunca vi Granada

Full details from the BCMG website.

Orpheus at Opera North: greater than the sum of its parts

Orpheus - Shahbaz Hussain on tabla, RN Prakash on ghatam, Mark Wagstaff on percussion, Sergio Bucheli on theorbo, Jasdeep Singh Degun on sitar and Andrew Long on violin  - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)a
Orpheus - Shahbaz Hussain on tabla, RN Prakash on ghatam, Mark Wagstaff on percussion, Sergio Bucheli on theorbo, Jasdeep Singh Degun on sitar and Andrew Long on violin - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)a

Claudio Monteverdi and Jasdeep Singh Degun: Orpheus - Opera North
Reviewed 20 October 2022 by Edward Lambert

Composer Edward Lambert enjoys the way Western and Indian traditions combine in Opera North's innovative new staging

The myth of Orpheus was fundamental to the history of early opera: Peri’s Euridice is the earliest surviving opera and its performance in Florence in 1600 was attended by the Duke of Mantua - Monteverdi’s employer - and Alessandro Striggio, who would write the libretto for Monteverdi’s opera of 1607. The attraction of the myth, of course, was that the story was widely known and understood; Orpheus, as a musical practitioner, becomes a parable for the genre of opera itself, a union of words and music which gives voice to this drama about love and loss. No wonder composers have struggled with the myth’s ending, sometimes tragic, sometimes happy, and sometimes, as with Monteverdi’s later drafts, somewhere in between. 

And how appropriate that Opera North and South Asian Arts UK (also Leeds-based) should choose the love of Orpheus and Eurydice to be the subject of a collaboration between them, one which turned out to be a true marriage of musical styles. ‘Monteverdi reimagined’, indeed. The production’s point of departure is the lovers’ wedding party in a suburban back garden sumptuously created by Leslie Travers. The sun is shining, and the musicians sit arrayed in the flower beds, Western and Indian instruments intermingled. The production by Anna Himali Howard is as restrained as the musical pace, intimate and tender, allowing the beauty of it all to speak for itself. Laurence Cummings presides discretely from the harpsichord, while the Indian classical musicians perform the music of Jasdeep Singh Degun, who directs from the sitar. 

Orpheus - Dean Robinson as Pluto and Chandra Chakraborty as Proserpina - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Orpheus - Dean Robinson as Pluto and Chandra Chakraborty as Proserpina - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Thus, it was that early baroque and Indian classical music came to be heard cheek by jowl. Right from the start, the role of La Musica was divided between Deepa Nair Rasiya and Amy Freston singing in their respective musical styles. Likewise, nymphs and shepherds were taken by the operatic quartet of Claire Lees, Frances Gregory, Xavier Hetherington and Simon Grange with contrasting contributions from their Asian counterparts, Sanchita Pal, Chiranjeeb Chakraborty and Vijay Rajput - the latter two paired as shepherds who entertained us in an ornament competition.  If early baroque opera delights in the contrast between recitative and aria, then in this Orpheus we are treated to even greater contrasts of cultural styles, the western gently extroverted alternating with the Indian, soft and introverted. Sometimes they tellingly combine or cross-fertilize each other.

Monday 24 October 2022

London International Festival of Early Music

London International Festival of Early Music (Photo Anna McCarthy)
London International Festival of Early Music (Photo Anna McCarthy)

The London International Festival of Early Music returns to Blackheath for four days of concerts, events and exhibition at Blackheath Halls and other venues in the area from 9 to 12 November 2022. The exhibition at Blackheath Halls (running from 10 to 12 November) includes shops, music publishers, recording companies, societies and instrument makers, and there are regular talks and workshops, along with Performers Platforms.

Alongside this runs a concert programme that begins with a world premiere, commissioned from Nitin Sawhney for the Brook Street Band. Other highlights include the UK debut of Spain’s Taracea, known for combining early music with contemporary sounds, the return of Solomon’s Knot in a programme of motets by JS Bach and his cousin Johann Christoph, the Renaissance collective Piva mixing Renaissance music from Italy and England with the first public performance of Toby Young's fanfare At the Faire, and a recital from Switzerland's Charlotte Schneider, winner of the 2021 SRP/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition.

Three finalists, Ensemble Pampinea, La Rondinella and the Tufnell Trio will compete in the 3rd biennial Early Music Young Ensemble Competition. Performers' Platforms provide groups of young players the opportunity to showcase their talents, this year featuring players from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Chetham’s School of Music, Royal Academy of Music and the Purcell School.

Full details from the festival website.

Ludlow English Song Day at Wigmore Hall: Nicky Spence, Claire Barnett-Jones, Iain Burnside, Rosalind Ventris

Rosalind Ventris, Nicky Spence, Claire Barnett-Jones backstage at Wigmore Hall (Photo Nicky Spence/Twitter)
Rosalind Ventris, Nicky Spence, Claire Barnett-Jones
backstage at Wigmore Hall (Photo Nicky Spence/Twitter)
Lord, come away! Chisholm, Bennett, Tomlinson Griffes, Rubbra, Vaughan Williams, Britten; Claire Barnett-Jones, Nicky Spence, Rosalind Ventris, Iain Burnside; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed 22 October 2022 (★★★★½)

Continuing Wigmore Hall's Ludlow English Song Day with a fascinating programme of lesser-known gems, ending with Britten's second canticle

As part of Wigmore Hall's Ludlow English Song Day (22/10/2022), for the early afternoon concert pianist Iain Burnside was joined by tenor Nicky Spence, mezzo-soprano Claire Barnett-Jones and viola player Rosalind Ventris for songs by Erik Chisholm, Richard Rodney Bennett, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Edmund Rubbra, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, ending with Benjamin Britten's Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac.

We began with five songs by the Scots composer Erik Chisholm, still something of a neglected talent whose songs are only just being rediscovered. His GK Chesterton setting, The Donkey (from 1923) combined Iain Burnside's vividly atmospheric piano with Nicky Spence's dramatic narration, the musical contrast between the two very striking with the strength of the vocal line setting off Chesterton's gnomic verses. The Offending Eye (from 1926) was another dramatic piece, given stark delivery by Claire Barnett-Jones with fine attention to the words. Barnett-Jones continued with Sixty Cubic Feet, setting words by the activist poet Randall Swingler (who worked a lot with Alan Bush). There is a folk-ish inflection to the tune, but the piano accompaniment was more pointed, that sense of marching along with quotations from other composers. The result managed to be ironic yet totally serious.

Six musicians & four jugglers: introducing United Strings of Europe's Apollo Resurrected

Apollo Resurrected - United Strings of Europe at Kings Place (Photo Dimitri Djuric)
Apollo Resurrected - United Strings of Europe at Kings Place (Photo Dimitri Djuric)

The United Strings of Europe will bring together juggling and string playing in a new show exploring themes of social and artistic recovery. The world premiere performance of Apollo Resurrected takes place at Kings Place on 28 October 
with a second performance as part of the Leeds International Concert Season on 3 November. Artistic Director Julian Azkoul sets the scene.

Classical music and circus arts do not appear at first glance to be obvious bedfellows. There are no ballets for clowns or operas about jugglers. Nevertheless, circus arts and juggling share many elements with music: rhythm, timing, gestures, phrases, patterns, even shapes. As a string player I came to appreciate this when I took part in a show with the pioneering juggling troupe Gandini Juggling that explored commonalities between juggling and classical dance. In the production, music was the glue that bound these disciplines together.

Sunday 23 October 2022

Sarojini: Shruthi Rajasekar's new piece, premiered by Hertfordshire Chorus, merges Western classical and Carnatic musical traditions

Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu
Shruthi Rajasekar: Sarojini, Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man, Nirmala Rajasekar, Thanjavur Murugaboopathi, Ana Beard Fernandez, Osama Kiwan, Hertfordshire Chorus, London Orchestra da Camera; St Albans Cathedral
Reviewed 22 October 2022 (★★★★)

Hertfordshire Chorus bring a wonderful sense of engagement to their striking programme of two contemporary works, each representing something of a fusion between different musics and different styles

Shruthi Rajasekar is a young Indian American composer whose background includes training in both Western classical and South Indian classical music. Her new work, Sarojini, reflects these intersections. A commission from Hertfordshire Chorus, Shruthi Rajasekar's Sarojni was premiered by the chorus with London Orchestra da Camera, soloists Nirmala Rajasekar (veena & voice), Thanjavur Murugaboopathi (mridangam), conductor David Temple at St Albans Cathedral on 22 October 2022. The work was paired with Karl JenkinsThe Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, with soloists Ana Beard Fernandez (soprano) and Osama Kiwan (muezzin).

Shruthi Rajasekar's mother, Nirmala Rajasekar, is one of the premier Saraswati veena players in the world (and also one of the evening's soloists), so Shruthi Rajasekar grew up studying Carnatic music, but was also trained in Western classical. The two systems have some elements in common, but the divergences mean that combining the two requires a delicate negotiation. 

Saturday 22 October 2022

Persian inspirations: UK-based Iranian composer Farhad Poupel talks about drawing on rich Persian culture for his music

Farhad Poupel
Farhad Poupel
Farhad Poupel is a young Iranian composer who has recently moved to the UK via the global talent visa, and his works have already been commissioned and performed internationally by artists such as pianists Peter Jablonski, Kotaro Fukuma, Jeffrey Biegel, and Margaret Fingerhut, and mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby. Born in Isfahan, Iran, he began his musical education by studying the Persian dulcimer (santur) and piano. He was mentored in harmony, counterpoint, and composition by the great Iranian composer Saeed Sharifian. Sharifian studied in the UK but returned to Iran in 1990 where he wrote scores inspired by Persian music and culture to develop further the Iranian musical language.

Farhad writes music in the Western classical tradition, and I was interested to find out how Iranian he considered his music to be. He does not write music using traditional improvisation and quarter-tone scales, but that is to give a rather limited definition of Iranian music. There is a rich Persian culture to draw on and he feels that his music is Iranian in the sense that when he plays his music for Iranians, to them it sounds Iranian. He uses structural elements from Iranian music, his cadences often have an Iranian style to them, he uses the major third rather a lot and writes cadences based on the submediant (sixth degree) rather than the dominant (fifth degree). But he tries to be himself when he writes music, and he mostly listens to Western classical music.

Farhad grew up in quite a diverse musical environment. His childhood memories of music all come from the cinema, American music, and from Persian pop music. After the Revolution, most Persian pop artists went to the USA and their music was shared in Iran via cassettes recorded in the USA. Farhad studied Persian classical music, whilst his mother played the piano and had lots of recordings. Farhad grew up open to everything. 

Friday 21 October 2022

Musical partnerships in the news

My inbox, recently, has brought news of a variety of partnerships happening in the musical world; a sign, perhaps, of the current economic times. Sage Gateshead, and chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia are partnering with Durham University Choral Society and a community chorus, the Dunedin Consort and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra begin a three-year partnership, whilst London Mozart Players have become Ambassador of Naxos for Education. 

As part of its celebrations of RVW's 150th birthday, Sage Gateshead and Chorus of the Royal Northern Sinfonia are partnering with Durham University Choral Society and a community chorus for three performances of choral reimagining of RVW's Tallis Fantasia, The World How Wide created by RNS chorus director Timothy Burke, who conducts the three performances at Durham Cathedral on Saturday 29 October 2022.  The World How Wide was originally created for a Sage Gateshead project in December 2020 when specially formed groups and local choirs collaborated digitally.  Details from the Sage Gateshead website.

The Dunedin Consort and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are beginning a three year partnership with a concert that includes Jorg Widmann’s extraordinary clarinet concerto, Echo-Fragmente — which is scored for both modern and baroque orchestras — with Widmann himself as the soloist at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh (28/10/2022) and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (29/10/2022). The Dunedin Consort has a residency at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, with Haydn and Bach's St Matthew Passion to come. Details from the Dunedin Consort website.

Whilst London Mozart Players (LMP) have become Ambassador of Naxos for Education as part of a joint Audience Development Partnership from the season of 2022–2023 onwards. Naxos for Education is anew portal for educators and practitioners, students and music lovers alike to access free resources and information about the wealth of Naxos’ offering.  Through the Keep Calm and Listen On campaign, LMP is spreading the word about free access to Naxos Music Library (NML) via a number of public libraries in London’s boroughs, for any library member. With classical music recordings from close to 1,000 major and independent labels including all of LMP’s, NML can be streamed on demand and on-the-go via the dedicated app. Students and schools working with LMP's outreach programmes will be given complimentary access to Naxos MusicBox – a curated online resource for children aged 4-14 for their own exploration and discovery of musical treasures, as they whet their musical appetite before hearing the orchestra live! Details from London Mozart Players' website.

The first time an act of Tristan und Isolde has been presented in the Highlands - the Mahler Players & Tomas Leakey

The Mahler Players - Tristan und Isolde

The Mahler Players, a chamber orchestra composed of professional musicians living in the Highlands, is planning to bring Wagner's Tristan und Isolde to the Scottish Highlands. The orchestra's music director and founder, Tomas Leakey will conduct the complete Act 2 of Tristan und Isolde, the Preludes to Act 1 and 3, and the Liebestod with soloists including Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in the title roles, John Tomlinson as King Marke, Alwyn Mellor as Brangane. 

The performances take place at Inverness Cathedral (3/12/2022) and Strathpeffer Pavilion (4/12/2022), and the orchestra will be playing a specially commissioned chamber arrangement by composers Matthew King, and Peter Longworth.

Tomas Leakey founded the Mahler Players in 2013 to foster high quality performance opportunities for the existing community of dedicated musicians who live in the area. The past few years have seen the orchestra focus on the work of Wagner, and this performance will be the first time that an act from Tristan und Isolde is performed in the Highlands. 

Full details from the orchestra's website.

New classical works with a Jewish theme at Tsitsit in Hampstead

Tsitsit fringe festival 2022
Tsitsit is the Fringe Festival with a Jewish flavour, it celebrates the many differing strands of contemporary Jewish identities and artistic expressions, with a programme that runs across the UK, highlighting Jewish communities past and present. The musical strand of this year's festival includes two new commissioned works being performed in the music room at Burgh House.

Soprano Rebecca Lea and the Ismena String Quartet will give the world premiere of Five Yehuda Amichai Songs by composer, poet and journalist Jeffrey Joseph (6/11/2022). The songs set poems by of Israel's finest poets, Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) with themes focusing on the human condition, the energy and vulnerability of children and the end of love. The programme is completed by Brahms' String Quartet No. 2.

Mezzo soprano Clara Kanter and pianist Ben Smith present an evening of live music and poetry (13/11/2022), inspired by Sholem Asch's 1923 play God of Vengeance, which caused controversy on Broadway for depicting scenes of ‘obscenity’. The music is set against the backdrop of a new film cantata composed by Alastair White that celebrates the intersection of Scottish and Yiddish culture. 

Full details from the festival website.

An evening of story-telling: soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha & pianist Simon Lepper at Wigmore Hall

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha at Wigmore Hall (image from live stream)
Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha at Wigmore Hall (image from live stream)

Mahler, Liszt, Wagner, Barber, Le Roux Marais, traditional; Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Simon Lepper; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed 19 October 2022 (★★★★)

Highly communicative with a wonderfully burnished, luxurious voice and a real joy in story telling, the South African soprano moved easily from 19th century German repertoire, to 20th century American, to South African and more traditional songs

South African soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha has made something of a speciality recently of Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 2015 and this work formed the centre piece of her recital at Wigmore Hall (her first full recital at the hall, I believe) on Wednesday 19 October 2022 with pianist Simon Lepper. Rangwanasha and Lepper began with songs from Mahler's Das Knaben Wunderhorn, followed by Liszt's Lorelei (with its pre-echoes of Tristan und Isolde), leading to a sequence of Wagner including three Wesendonck Lieder. In the second half the Barber was followed by two South African songs and a selection of spirituals.

Rangwanasha won the Song Prize at Cardiff Singer of the World in 2021, and whilst her voice is clearly operatic in scope, she is highly accomplished and communicative on the recital stage. Singing everything from memory, this was in many ways an evening of story-telling, and whilst Rangwanasha's wonderful burnished, brilliant and luxuriant voice was centre stage, her expressive face and eyes told a lot too. That said, the concluding sequence of the evening, when she sang South African composer Stephanus Le Roux Marais's song Mali die slaaf se lied, the traditional South African song Thula Baba and a group of spirituals, had a remarkable sense of energy and freedom, something that continued to build in the encores, a further spiritual and the 'Click song' in this latter she was spontaneously joined in duet by a gentleman in the audience! The result had a vibrancy, energy and sheer sense of enjoyment; you wished that she could find a way of bringing some of this freedom into her Western classical repertoire.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Highly persuasive: pianist Iyad Sughayer in Aram Khachaturian's Piano Concerto and Concerto-Rhapsody

Aram Khachaturian: Piano Concerto, Masquerade Suite, Concerto-Rhapsody; Iyad Sughayer, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Andrew Litton; BIS
Aram Khachaturian: Piano Concerto, Masquerade Suite, Concerto-Rhapsody; Iyad Sughayer, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Andrew Litton; BIS
Reviewed 19 October 2022 (★★★★)

After impressing with his disc of the composer's solo piano music, Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer returns with Khachaturian's two piano concertante works, combining technical bravura with lyricism into persuasive performances

Having recorded a fine disc of Khachaturian's solo piano music for BIS [see my review], pianist Iyad Sughayer has returned to the music for the composer's two works for piano and orchestra. Iyad Sughayer is joined by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Andrew Litton for Khachaturian's Piano Concerto and Concerto Rhapsody, and the disc is rounded off with the Masquerade Suite arranged for piano solo.

DNA, Evolution, Music and more: The Darwins and Music

The Darwins and Music

In 1885, George Howard Darwin (son of the Charles Darwin of On the Origin of Species fame) and his wife bought Newnham Grange in Cambridge. After the death of George Darwin's son Charles (a physicist) the family gave the house for the foundation of Darwin College. Now, the college is the venue for a concert, on Saturday 29 October 2022, The Darwins and Music which looks at the Darwin family and their engagement with music, placing pieces by composers the family engaged with alongside contemporary pieces inspired by the Darwin's scientific researches.

They were a remarkable family and the concert looks at the musical interests of the enlightenment polymath Erasmus Darwin, through to his famous grandson, Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgwood before ending on the musical interests of his son, George Howard Darwin, and grandchildren. The Darwin family intermarried with the Wedgewood farmily, creating a remarkable scientific/artistic nexus that the concert seeks to explore.

There will be music by John Alcock, Fanny Mendelssohn, Frédéric François Chopin and Ralph Vaughan Williams (whose mother was Charles Darwin's niece) and contemporary composer David Gahan. Gahan's string quartet, Eyenigma Variations: A Fantasia on Codes will be receiving its first public performance at the concert. Gahan describes the work as being "inspired by Darwin's writings on 'The Eye' (Ch. 6 ‘Origin’) - a transcription of the genetic code of the visual protein rhodopsin - various other musical codes, and variations on a well-known mid-Victorian hymn and counterblast to Evolution". The performers include Paul Warburton, Carola Darwin, Marie-Noëlle Kendall, and the Trinity Street Consort .

And the concert links in to the exhibition Darwin in Conversation: The Endlessly Curious Life and Letters of Charles Darwin at Cambridge University library.

Further details about the concert also from the library website, and tickets (which are free) from EventBrite.

Opera-thon for Ukraine

Ukrainian National Opera House in Kyiv
Ukrainian National Opera House in Kyiv
The soprano Janet Fairlie is organising an opera-thon in aid of UNICEF's work in Ukraine. The event will be streamed live for ten hours on 23 October 2022 and the performances will take place in the splendour of Sarastro restaurant in Covent Garden.

Janet will be joined by singers from the Royal Opera, English National Opera and Glyndebourne accompanied by pianists Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley, as well Richard Hetherington, Head of Music at The Royal Opera House. A string quartet will also entertain during the day.

The opera-thon takes place from 12pm to 10pm on 23 October 2022. You can watch online by buying a ticket from EventBrite, and you can support the project directly via JustGiving.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

The Voice of Black Opera

Voice of Black Opera semifinalists
The first Voice of Black Opera competition was held in 2008 and helped launch the careers of winners Elizabeth Llewellyn, Peter Braithwaite and Nadine Benjamin. Now the Black British Classical Foundation, which exists to address classical music’s under-representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, has relaunched the Voice of Black Opera competition and it will be held biannually.

This year's final takes place at Birmingham Town Hall on 5 December 2022 when five finalists will compete, accompanied by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren. Each singer’s repertoire must include a performance of at least one contemporary song or aria by a Black or South Asian composer and finalists will also perform a duet with a leading opera singer.

The competition is open to Black and South Asian singers from Commonwealth countries and 12 semi-finalists have been chosen via video auditions. The 12 will be in Birmingham next month for intensive preparations for the semi-finals on 24 and 25 November 2022, as well as taking part in professional development workshops and a masterclass led by tenor Jean Ronald La Fond

The 12 semi-finalists are Natasha Agarwal - soprano (British Indian), Neil Balfour - bass-baritone (Scottish Indian), Rachel Duckett - soprano (British), Chantelle Grant - mezzo-soprano (Canadian), Christian Joel - tenor (Trinidadian), Thando Mjandana - tenor (South African), Yolisa Ngwexana - soprano (South African), John Onosolease - baritone (Nigerian), Isabelle Peters - soprano (British), Samkelisiwe Sitshinga - soprano (South African), Shanice Skinner - soprano (Canadian) and Suzanne Taffot - soprano (Canadian-Cameroonian).

Further details about the final from the B:Music website.

Music, merriment and mayhem: a day at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Christopher Bucknall, Jonathan Byers, Caroline Taylor, Christopher Purves, choir of the Queen's College, Oxford - Oxford Lieder Festival at Freud (Photo Oxford Lieder Festival)
Christopher Bucknall, Jonathan Byers, Caroline Taylor, Christopher Purves, choir of the Queen's College, Oxford - Oxford Lieder Festival at Freud (Photo Oxford Lieder Festival)

The Catch Club
, Sonnets in Song; Chris Price, Mark Padmore, Elizabeth Kenny, Christopher Purves, Caroline Taylor, Chrisopher Bucknall, Jonathan Byers, the Friendly Harmonists, choir of The Queen's College, Oxford, Owen Rees; Oxford Lieder Festival at Freud
Reviewed 17 October 2022 (★★★★)

Evoking the eclectic tastes and musical mayhem of 18th-century Catch Clubs at an Oxford cocktail bar, and an intriguing project to put Shakespeare's sonnets to music by his contemporaries

Having begun my day at the Oxford Lieder Festival (17 October 2022) with Coleridge-Taylor & Friends [see my review] we continued with an afternoon lecture, Music, Merriment and Mischief by Chris Price introducing the catch club. The early evening concert featured tenor Mark Padmore and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny in a programme which combined the songs of John Danyel, setting sonnets by his brother Samuel, alongside new versions of songs by John Dowland where Ross W. Duffin has newly retrofitted Shakespeare's sonnets. The evening event, building on the afternoon lecture, was The Catch Club, featuring baritone Christopher Purves, soprano Caroline Taylor, the Friendly Harmonists, the choir of the Queen's College, Oxford, director Owen Rees, in an evocation of the 18th and 19th century phenomenon of musical clubs that involved not just music, but drinking, food, merriment and much else besides.

Catch Clubs were a remarkable phenomenon of the 18th and 19th centuries. A catch (effectively a round sung by all the assembled company), once described as 'three parts obscenity and one-part music' was a type of music that never expected and audience. Catch Clubs were about joining in, everyone sang, everyone ate, everyone drank.

Coleridge-Taylor & Friends: Elizabeth Llewellyn and Simon Lepper at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Coleridge-Taylor & Friends: Coleridge-Taylor, Puccini, Stanford, Brahms; Elizabeth Llewellyn, Simon Lepper; Oxford Lieder Festival at the Holywell Music Room
Coleridge-Taylor & Friends: Coleridge-Taylor, Puccini, Stanford, Brahms; Elizabeth Llewellyn, Simon Lepper; Oxford Lieder Festival at the Holywell Music Room
Reviewed 17 October 2022 (★★★★)

Making her festival debut, soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn places Coleridge-Taylor's songs alongside those of his contemporaries in an engaging and illuminating lunchtime recital 

The 2022 Oxford Lieder Festival is in full swing with the overarching theme of Friendship in Song: an intimate art. I went along on Monday 17 October 2022 for a day that began for me with soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper's lunchtime recital at the Holywell Music Room, placing the songs of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor alongside those of his teacher, Charles Villiers Stanford, contemporaries whom he admired, Brahms and Puccini.

Elizabeth Llewellyn and Simon Lepper began and ended with songs by Coleridge-Taylor, whilst in the middle we hear songs by Puccini, whom Coleridge-Taylor admired for his sense of colour, Stanford who was Coleridge-Taylor's teacher, and Brahms whom Coleridge-Taylor regarded as a revolutionary and who was a significant influence on older English composers like Stanford and Parry.

Monday 17 October 2022

Serenade to Music: Nash Ensemble and a fine array of soloists celebrate Vaughan Williams' 150th birthday

Serenade to Music - Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge, Five Mystical Songs, Phantasy Quintet, Serenade to Music, Bridge, Bax, Elgar; Nash Ensemble, Alessandro Fisher, Roderick Williams; Wigmore Hall

Serenade to Music
- Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge, Five Mystical Songs, Phantasy Quintet, Serenade to Music, Bridge, Bax, Elgar; Nash Ensemble, Alessandro Fisher, Roderick Williams; Wigmore Hall

A long evening, full of good things from the familiar to new views of the familiar to the unfamiliar, with strong illuminating performances

As part of the celebrations for Ralph Vaughan Williams' 150th birthday, the Nash Ensemble presented a substantial survey of the composers smaller scale works as part of the ensemble's residency at Wigmore Hall (15 October 2022). Nine members of the Nash Ensemble were joined by tenor Alessandro Fisher, baritone Roderick Williams and a fine array of 13 other soloists for a programme that placed RVW alongside his friends and contemporaries, concentrating on music from 1900 to 1916.

We heard RVW's On Wenlock Edge, chamber versions of the Five Mystical Songs and Serenade to Music, plus Nocturne & Scherzo, Six Studies in English Folksong and Phantasy String Quintet, along with music by Bridge, Bax and Elgar.

Saturday 15 October 2022

Doing it with the requisite seriousness is key: composer Noah Max & director Guido Martin-Brandis on bringing Holocaust story, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to the operatic stage.

Noah Max's A Child in Striped Pyjamas in rehearsal
Noah Max's A Child in Striped Pyjamas in rehearsal 
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 novel by Irish novelist John Boyne that deals with the Holocaust via the device of two boys, one German one Jewish, either side of the fence at the concentration camp. The novel has been turned into a film and a ballet, and now it is going to be an opera. 

Noah Max's operatic treatment of the subject, A Child in the Striped Pyjamas will be premiered at the Cockpit Theatre on 11 January 2023 with Noah Max conducting the Echo Ensemble, directed by Guido Martin-Brandis. Noah's disc of songs and chamber music, Songs of Loneliness was recently issued on Toccata Classics [see my review], whilst Guido directed Richard Strauss' Die ägyptische Helena for Fulham Opera [see my review]

Noah had read Boyne's novel at school but had not considered it as an operatic subject until the conductor John Whitfield (1957-2019) brought the idea up. Towards the end of his life, Whitfield was something of a mentor to Noah and he pressed Noah to explore the subject. It had personal resonances, Noah's family only narrowly escaped from Vienna, and Whitfield was convinced that creating such a work would help Noah to mature as a composer. Whitfield died shortly before the pandemic, and Noah took the time created in 2020 to look at the book again and explore the idea of an opera.

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