Saturday, 24 September 2022

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

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

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

Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Resonus Classics

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 September 2022

LPO opens applications for its new Conducting Fellowship

London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra

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

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

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

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

New classical concert series at historic house in Cumbria

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

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

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

Full details from the Netherby Hall website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

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

Steel City Choristers
Steel City Choristers

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

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

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

Full details from the choir's website.

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

Looking West

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

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

Full details from the Barbican website.


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

The Carnival Band
The Carnival Band

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

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

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

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

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

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




Sarong Song

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

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

See the video on YouTube.

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

Remy Ballot & Klangkollectiv Wien
Remy Ballot & Klangkollectiv Wien

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 18 September 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Celebrating 40 years on stage, Max Emanuel Cencic performs a programme of arias Handel wrote for the castrato Senesino

George Frideric Handel: arias and overtures from Giulio Cesare, Radamisto, Poro, Ricardo Primo, Orlando, Tolomeo and Ezio; Max Emanuel Cencic, Armonea Atenea, George Petrou; Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival at the Markgräfliches Opernhaus

Amazingly, counter-tenor Max Emanuel Cencic is celebrating 40 years on stage; he started very young, he is now in his mid-40s. Initially a boy treble whose repertoire included the Queen of the Night's aria, as an adult he sang as a high counter-tenor in the soprano range before retraining to sing alto and mezzo-soprano roles. His Handel explorations have been wide-ranging and for the Saturday evening gala (10 September 2022) at the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival at the Markgräfliches Opernhaus, Bayreuth, Max Emanuel Cencic performed a programme of Handel arias written for the great alto castrato Senesino. The concert took place on the set of Leonardo Vinci's Alessandro nell'Indie [see my review], in Prinny's red and gold Gothick drawing room, and Cencic was joined on stage by George Petrou and Armonia Atenea. We heard overtures from Radamisto, Giulio Cesare and Tolomeo, plus arias from Giulio Cesare, Radamisto, Poro, Ricardo Primo, Orlando, Tolomeo and Ezio

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Couperin's Trois Leçons de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint at Bayreuth Baroque

Ordenskirche St Georgen, Bayreuth
Ordenskirche St Georgen, Bayreuth

Couperin: Trois Leçons de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint;  Chantal Santon, Marie Théoleyre, Loris Barrucand, François Gallon; Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival at Ordenskirche St Georgen
Reviewed 10 September 2022 (★★★★)

Wonderfully idiomatic performances of Couperin's surviving lessons bringing out the rhetorical aspect of the music

Saturday afternoon's concert (10 September 2022) at Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival took place in the Ordenskirche St Georgen in what is now Bayreuth St Georgen, a suburb. But in the early 18th century it was to be planned new town surrounding a palace by an artificial lake, which had been created in the 17th century so the then Margrave could sail his model boats. It wasn't finished and the palace became a prison. The church, however, is glorious; almost square, galleried and delightfully elaborate. Completed in 1711, it was the church for the Margrave's order of knighthood, the Ordre de la Sincérité. 

The concert took us to the France contemporary with the church, as Chantal Santon (soprano), Marie Théoleyre (soprano), Loris Barrucand (organ) and François Gallon (cello) performed Couperin's Trois Leçons de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint. Written for performance in the Abbaye royale de Longchamp in 1714 they were originally part of a group, but the other two sets of lessons for Thursday and Friday have alas been lost. Illness had forced a change of cast with Chantal Santon stepping in, but you couldn't tell.

The performers gave us an affecting sequence of 18th century French music, but frustratingly not everything was specified, and I am not sure which singer sang which lesson. So we began with two unaccompanied, invisible voices as if from the heavens, singing I think, part of Couperin's third lesson. Then an organ prelude leading into the first lesson, for solo soprano, organ and cello. Though her diction was not quite crisp, it was good to have a native French speaker singing the French-inflected Latin. Her voice had an attractive richness to it, with an expressive use of vibrato.

Monday, 12 September 2022

The Trocs go to the opera? Vinci’s Alessandro nell’Indie with five counter-tenors at Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival

Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell'Indie: Jake Arditti & dancers (Photo Falk von Traubenberg)
Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell'Indie - Jake Arditti & dancers (Photo Falk von Traubenberg)


Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell’Indie; Franco Fagioli, Bruno de Sà, Jake Arditti, Maayan Licht, Stefan Sbonnik, Nicholas Tamagna, director: Max Emanuel Cencic, (oh!) Orkiestra, music director: Martyna Pastuszka; Bayreuth Baroque Festival at the Markgräfliches Opernhaus Bayreuth
Reviewed 9 September 2022 (★★★★★)

A brilliantly theatrical and superbly sung re-imagining of an opera seria reflecting the work’s premiere by an all-male cast
 
Max Emanuel Cencic’s Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival takes place in and around the Markgräfliches Opernhaus, Bayreuth, the restored 18th century theatre in Bayreuth, originally built by Wilhelmine, Margravine of Bayreuth and sister to Frederick the Great. A striking and handsome building, one of the biggest theatres in Germany at the time, the festival enables it to be used for the staging of 18th century opera.
 
The Markgräfliches Opernhaus, Bayreuth (Photo Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung)
The auditorium of the Markgräfliches Opernhaus, Bayreuth (Photo Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung)

This year the focus was on Leonardo Vinci’s Alessandro nell’Indie written for Rome in 1730 and though it was popular it was probably never performed after 1740. The opera was the first setting of Metastasio’s early (and also very popular) libretto, which Handel would transform into Poro. As the premiere of Vinci’s Alessandro nell’Indie was in Rome, the female roles were all taken by castrati, something that happened in Continental Europe but never in England. This production at Bayreuth reflected this with both female characters being played by counter-tenors and this ethos extended to the dance troupe where four of the men performed in (very convincing) drag.
 
Max Emanuel Cencic directed Leonardo Vinci’s Alessandro nell’Indie (seen 9 September 2022) with Franco Fagioli as Poro, Bruno de Sà as Cleofide (female), Jake Arditti as Erissena (female), Maayan Licht as Alessandro, Stefan Sbonnik as Gandarte, Nicholas Tamagna as Timagene, with (oh!) Orkiestra directed from the violin by Martyna Pastuszka. Set design was by Domenico Franchi, costumes by Giuseppe Palella, lighting by David Debrinay and choreography by Sumon Rudra.

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

The atmosphere, history & dangers of the sandbank: Michael Betteridge's Voices of the Sands

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands - Esther Swift - Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands - Esther Swift - Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands; Sarah Parkin, Donna Lennard, Suzie Purkiss, Esther Swift, director: Lucy Bradley, video: Chuck Blue Lowry; Tête-à-Tête : the Opera Festival at the Cockpit
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 2 September 2022

A visually stunning semi-staged production of Michael Betteridge's dramatic cantata about the history and folklore of the Goodwin Sands.

It was hard to believe that this production of Michael Betteridge's Voices of the Sands, as part of Tête-à-Tête at London's charming Cockpit Theatre, was originally conceived as a cycle of ten related songs, as it seemed immediately suited for the stage. The three singers, Sarah Parkin, Donna Lennard, Suzie Purkiss, intelligently and wittily directed by Lucy Bradley (in a dual role as theatre technician), confidently used space, gesture and carefully selected props to draw the enthusiastic audience deep into the mysterious stories of the Goodwin Sands. 

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands - Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands - Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)

Writer Rebecca Hurst has created a fascinating and multi-layered libretto, interleaving her original work with found texts, fragments of sea shanties, shipping reports, folk tales and the wordless syllables of a seal-calling song. Her text combines the stories of lost ships, sunken fortunes, drowned sailors and lonely seagulls, described with a kind of romantic watercolour impressionism laid over newspaper matter-of-factness.

Monday, 5 September 2022

A female pope, a lift, an angel and a demon: Edward Lambert's new opera The Burning Question reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders

Edward Lambert: The Burning Question - Peter Martin, Rosalind Dobson - The Music Troupe at Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Edward Lambert: The Burning Question - Peter Martin, Rosalind Dobson - The Music Troupe at Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)

Edward Lambert: The Burning Question; Peter Martin, Rosalind Dobson, Arlene Belli, Samuel Lom, Tabitha Benton-Evans, Susan Norman, Elspeth Wilkes, The Music Troupe; Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival at the Cockpit
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 1 August 2022

The Burning Question, composer Edward Lambert's sixteenth chamber opera, and his seventh with his group The Music Troupe, attempts to answer the "burning question" of the title: what happens when the lift carrying the Pope gets stuck

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that. At Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival, in the intimate surrounding of a sold-out Cockpit Theatre, just off Edgware Road, Lambert's work took an archly witty, often hilarious, libretto by frequent collaborator Norman Welch (Apollo's Mission, 2019) and combined it with a dash of Italian opera buffa and a swirl of mysterious American poet Ambrose Bierce's satirical translation of the Latin requiem mass text to create a complex, layered story about love, loss, self sacrifice and sin. Lambert's approachable, but contemporary musical style revealed his huge experience in writing for voices over his long career, varying from parlando banter and expressive bel canto arias, through polyphonic show-stoppers, to tightly harmonic four-part chorales. And despite a sprinkling of Italian phrases mixed with the English text, the entire libretto was transparently audible and easy to follow throughout – something that can't always be said for contemporary opera.

Saturday, 3 September 2022

Ulster Touring Opera announces its first staged production

Njabulo Madlala
Njabulo Madlala, who makes his role debut as Figaro
Spring 2023 will see Ulster Touring Opera performing its first full staged opera production. Artistic director Dafydd Hall Williams' production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville will be performed at four performances across Northern Ireland and the Republic in February 2023. 

Belfast-born mezzo-soprano Sinéad O’Kelly is Rosina, with South African baritone Njabulo Madlala making his role debut as Figaro, English tenor Jack Roberts [Lensky in Opera Holland Park's 2022 Young Artist performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, see my review] as Count Almaviva, Belfast baritone Malachy Frame as Basilio, and Spanish soprano Lorena Paz Nieto [Lisette in IF Opera's recent production of Puccini's La Rondine, see my review] as Berta. The production will be sung in English in Amanda Holden’s beloved translation. The music director is Keith McAlister and the accompaniment will be piano and clarinet.

  • Saturday 4 February: Market Place Theatre, Armagh
  • Friday 10 February: An Grianán, Letterkenny
  • Wednesday 15 February: MAC Belfast
  • Friday 17 February: Ramor Theatre, Cavan

Full details from the Ulster Touring Opera website

Tenor Owen Lucas wins NI Opera's 12th Glenarm Festival of Voice

County Tyrone tenor Owen Lucas, winner of the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize (Photo Declan Roughan)
County Tyrone tenor Owen Lucas, winner of the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize (Photo Declan Roughan)

Northern Ireland Opera's Glenarm Festival of Voice took place in Glenarm last weekend, after having relocated to Belfast for the last two years because of the pandemic. On Sunday evening, five opera singers chosen from applicants from across the island of Ireland competed for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and to become the NI Opera Young Opera Voice of 2022. The singers spent three days working with top opera coaches Kathryn Harries, Dr Ingrid Surgenor and pianist Simon Lepper.

The winner of the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and the NI Opera Young Opera Voice of 2022 is County Tyrone tenor Owen Lucas, who was also voted the winner of the Audience Prize, sponsored by The Londonderry Arms, Carnlough. Lucas sang 'E lucevan le stelle' from Puccini's Tosca, and Michael Head's Nocturne, and his ensemble piece was ‘The Midnight Quartet’ from Von Flotow's Martha with David Kennedy, Heather Sammon and Hannah O’Brien.

The winner of the Song Prize, sponsored by The Priests Charitable Trust, is County Louth soprano Hannah O’Brien for her performance of James Joyce’s Bid Adieu for which, unusually James Joyce wrote both the words and the music.

Full details from the Northern Ireland Opera website.

Prometheus Unbound: London English Song Festival launches crowd-funder to support premiere recording of Hubert Parry's cantata

Having performed Hubert Parry's oratorio Judith in 2019 and released a fine recording in 2020 [see my review], William Vann's London English Song Festival is returning to Parry with the composer's cantata Prometheus Unbound based on Shelley' s poem. Written in 1880 (eight years before Judith) for the Gloucester Festival, the work has rarely been performed and has never been recorded.

The plan is to record the work for Chandos, with a fine line up of soloists including Dame Sarah Connolly (as The Earth), Sarah Fox (as Spirit of the Hour), David Butt Philip (as Jupiter and Mercury) and Neal Davies (as Prometheus) with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and London Mozart Players, conducted by William Vann.

Such plans do not come cheap, and the festival has started a Crowdfunder to support the recording. Full details from the London English Song Festival website, and go to the Crowdfunder website to support it.

Friday, 2 September 2022

Devastating intensity: Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius at Prom 59

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius - Edward Gardner, Allan Clayton, London Philharmonic Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Chris Chris Christodoulou/BBC)
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius - Edward Gardner, Allan Clayton, London Philharmonic Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Chris Chris Christodoulou/BBC)

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius; Allan Clayton, Jamie Barton, James Platt, London Philharmonic Choir, Hallé Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed 31 August 2022 (★★★★★)

Perfectly paced with a remarkable intensity, a performance of Elgar's oratorio that blossomed in the space, and with the title role sung devastatingly by Allan Clayton

Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius seems to be a work made for the Royal Albert Hall. In smaller venues it can seem somewhat constrained and confined, the large-scale choruses unable to blossom. At the BBC Prom on Wednesday 31 August 2022 at the Royal Albert Hall, Edward Gardner conducted the combined forces of the London Philharmonic Choir and the Hallé Choir, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra plus soloists Jamie Barton (mezzo-soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor) and James Platt (bass) in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius.

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius - Edward Gardner, Allan Clayton, Jamie Barton, London Philharmonic Choir, Halle Choir, , London Philharmonic Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Chris Chris Christodoulou/BBC)
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius - James Platt,Jamie Barton, Edward Gardner, Allan Clayton,
London Philharmonic Choir, Hallé Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Chris Chris Christodoulou/BBC)

Gardner set out his approach from the very beginning, the prelude was all long controlled lines, perfectly paced and quietly intense. There was something gripping about the way the music flowed, the tenseness of the emotion kept under check but always there. At university I had a friend who swore that performances of the work could be boiled down to two approaches, that of Boult or Barbirolli, and he was convinced that whether the conductor took the text as simply an allegory or as a direct religious statement made a difference. Discuss!

Certainly, there are different ways of approaching The Dream of Gerontius, perhaps we might call them the classical and the romantic, the one shapes the work and allows the emotion to simmer underneath only bubbling up at key points, the other more explicitly and more directly emotional. Gardner veered towards the former, and the emotion in this performance told all the more for being in a finely controlled and shaped background.

Thursday, 1 September 2022

The Benedetti Foundation's Baroque Virtual Sessions

The Benedetti Foundation's Virtual Sessions are back and from 26 September to 2 October, performers can join in the Baroque Virtual Sessions exploring the energetic and revolutionary world of baroque music in a way that inspires fun and enjoyment, a greater sense of togetherness and a true abandonment of caution. 

The Baroque Sessions will be led by a team of internationally acclaimed specialists including Rachel Podger (violin), Clifton Harrison (viola), David Watkin (cello), Carina Cosgrave (double bass), Steven Devine (harpsichord), Adrian Bending (percussion), Leo Duarte (woodwind), Ursula Paludan Monberg (brass) and Elizabeth Kenny (lute). From 26 to 30 September, short participation and information videos from the Baroque experts will be released on social media and hosted on the Benedetti Foundation website. 

Then on 1 and 2 October, the team of Baroque specialists will deliver a series of live sessions on Zoom across the weekend exploring the energetic and revolutionary world of baroque music. Participants may join as many sessions as they wish, and all sessions will be recorded and will be available to watch back within three months.   

Further details from the Benedetti Foundation website, and sign up here.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Noisenights go nationwide

Sheku Kanneh-Mason at noisenight four
Sheku Kanneh-Mason at noisenight four

After hosting a number of sold-out crowdfunded live music gigs in London across the last 12 months, through the noise have announced that noisenights, their classical music series in clubs, will tour the country this Autumn. 

noisenights will expand to Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, and the Autumn season will feature Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Abel Selaocoe, Her Ensemble, Alexandra Whittingham, Esther Abrami, Plínio Fernandes, Roberts Balanas, and Harry Baker. The series also continues to grow in London with dates at the Jazz Cafe, Camden and OMEARA, London Bridge, amongst others.

Inspired by London’s underground club scene and thriving jazz venues, noisenights offer an alternative way to experience live classical music. There are two ticket options: either an early-evening rush-hour set, or a late show which is followed by live jazz, funk and afrobeat acts. The two-sittings format allows shows to be in more intimate venues than would normally be feasible with major artists.

noisenight10 takes place on Saturday 8 October 2022 with Roberts Balanas at OMEARA and. noisenight11 features Her Ensemble on Saturday 5 November 2022 at Colours Hoxton, with further dates and venues through to December. Full details from throughthenoise's website.

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

A light touch and some rattling good tunes: Puccini's La rondine from IF Opera at Belcombe Court

Puccini: La Rondine - Joseph Buckmaster, Meinir Wyn Roberts - IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)
Puccini: La Rondine (Act 3) - Joseph Buckmaster, Meinir Wyn Roberts - IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)

Puccini: La Rondine; Meinir Wyn Roberts, Joseph Buckmaster, Philip Smith, Lorena Paz Nieto, Ryan Vaughan Davies, director: Bruno Ravella, Bristol Ensemble, conductor: Oliver Gooch; IF Opera at Belcombe Court

Puccini: La Rondine - Meinir Wyn Roberts - IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)
Puccini: La Rondine (Act 2) - Meinir Wyn Roberts
IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)
A young cast bring Puccini's commedia lirica to life in a production that applies a light touch, bringing out the work's charm

Iford Arts, which was founded in 1997 to perform in the gardens of Iford Manor, has a new name, a new CEO, a new venue and a new ethos. As IF Opera under CEO Michael Volpe (late of Opera Holland Park) the company recently opened its Summer 2022 season as Belcombe Court, a very different garden to Iford Manor but an equally ravishing one. From this year, IF Opera has a new ethos too, the company aims to run seasons on a repertory basis with singers taking part in multiple productions, thus giving young artists a range of challenges and opportunities, as well as building a company ethos. This year's season includes Puccini's La Rondine, Donizetti's Rita, Wolf-Ferrari's Susanna's Secret, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, plus a family opera.

On Monday 29 August 2022 we caught Bruno Ravella's production of Puccini's La rondine with Oliver Gooch (IF Opera's artistic director) conducting the Bristol Ensemble using Bryan Higgins' orchestral arrangement. Designs were by Flavio Graff, lighting and video by Luca Panetta. Meinir Wyn Roberts was Magda, Joseph Buckmaster was Ruggero, Philip Smith was Rambaldo, Lorena Paz Nieto was Lisette and Ryan Vaughan Davies was Prunier, with Lara Marie Miller, Natasha Page, Shakira Tsindos, Kieran Rayner, Jonathan Forbes Kennedy, and Matteo Placidi.

Puccini's later career saw the composer constantly worrying about the style and the subject matter of his operas, he consciously tried to extend his range both by writing more 'advanced' music (La fanciulla del West) and reaching out to other genres (the comedy of Gianni Schicchi). His agreement to write an operetta for Vienna (quickly finessed into a commedia lyrica, without spoken dialogue) can be seen in this light. The opera features Puccini writing imaginatively yet in a lighter vein for the orchestra (that piano in act one, for instance), and a plot that fails to plumb the emotional depths of his other serious operas. Instead, the characters are drawn with a lighter touch and the ending is perhaps more realistic. Magda, in particular, develops a greater degree of self-awareness than other Puccini's heroines. If you come to the work expecting to go through an emotional wringer, then you will be disappointed, but if you approach it as Puccini's writing in a lighter vein, then it is a complete delight with some terrific tunes.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

17th International Malcolm Arnold Festival

17th International Malcolm Arnold Festival
This year's Malcolm Arnold Festival, the 17th, will be somewhat different. Previously, the festival has been based in Arnold's home town of Northampton, but this year the centre of operations moves to London and also to a wide audience on-line. The festival takes place in London on 8 and 9 October 2022, and then there will be an on-line day of performances on 30 October 2022.

Things begin on 8 October with a concert at the Church of St Barnabas in Ealing, when John Gibbons conducts the Ealing Symphony Orchestra in Arnold's Homage to the Queen, Divertimento No. 2 and Trumpet Concerto (with soloist Nick Budd), plus Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. Then on 9 October there is a day of events at the Royal College of Music, with performances from the RCM String Ensemble, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton of works for string orchestra and chamber ensemble, including concertos and the Ukrainian Folk Variations, an illustrated lecture by Dominic Wheeler on Arnold's opera The Dancing Master, a masterclass from Julian Lloyd Webber, and a talk on Arnold's fellow student and friend Ruth Gipps. 

Then on 30 October there will be a day of free-to-view live-streamed performances coming from locations that were of importance to Arnold and inspired some of this music. The English Dances are performed by Northampton County Youth Orchestra, the Welsh Dances performed by members of the Royal Welsh Conservatoire, the Scottish Dances performed by The Orchestra of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Junior Department, and the Cornish Dances and Padstow Lifeboat performed by the St Dennis Band in Cornwall, including members who played in the premiere of the work in 1967. The Irish Dances are performed from where Malcolm lived in the 1970s.

Full details from the festival website.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Two moments in time: String Orchestra of Brooklyn with a work written for 2020's Lockdown, and another evoking the opening of Honolulu's contemporary art museum in 1980

Scott Wollschleger: Outside Only Sound; Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti : with eyes the color of time; String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel; New Focus Recordings
Scott Wollschleger: Outside Only Sound; Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti : with eyes the color of time; String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel; New Focus Recordings
26 August 2022 (★★★★)

One work delayed by lockdown, the other created specifically for lockdown conditions, yet both display a dazzling use of texture and timbre with vividly imaginative use of a contemporary string orchestra

This new disc from the String Orchestra of Brooklyn features two works written specifically for the orchestra, one takes us to a day in October 2020, to the height of Lockdown in New York when the orchestra played outside, the other takes us to the day in 1980 when the first contemporary art museum opened in Honolulu.

At the height of the 2020 lockdown in New York, indoor concerts were cancelled and even having an orchestra rehearsing together was problematic. The String Orchestra of Brooklyn's solution was to commission work specifically tailored to the needs of the moment, out of doors performances and minimal rehearsal. One of the results was Scott Wollschleger's Outside Only Sound for strings and percussion. On enfoldingtheir new disc from New Focus Recordings, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, conductor Eli Spindel, performs Scott Wollschleger's Outside Only Sound with one of the works that were due to be premiered at cancelled performances in 2020, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s with eyes the color of time.

Wollschleger’s solution to the orchestra's commission for 2020 was "to structure music material in which each player was like a single cicada and there was never a need for a conductor. Instead, each player used a stopwatch and functioned as one of a group of insects in a field, or like a gaseous cloud of sound." The recording is intensely atmospheric and we hear an extended sequence of ambient sounds, with remarkable clarity, before the music starts. And it starts gradually, as if arising from the ambient, the situation creating the art. Wollschleger writes for string orchestra and six percussionists, who bow a variety of large metal mixing bowls, but the orchestral players themselves play a series of small bells, thus creating an element of fairy magic in this remarkable cloud.

Friday, 26 August 2022

A Quiet Night: new single in support of the Ukrainian Welcome Centre

24 August was Ukrainian Independence Day and was exactly six months since the beginning of the latest Russian invasion. To coincide with this British vocal ensemble SANSARA, artistic director Tom Herring, has released a new single, A Quite Night, by Ukrainian composer Natalia Tsupryk which sets words by the Ukrainian President, Vlodymyr Zelensky, and poet Serhiy Zhadan. The single is combined with a charitable appeal for the Ukrainian Welcome Centre – a UK-wide network of support centres for Ukrainian refugees.

The piece is written to be sung in places where refugee communities can work together with local choirs, and it was commissioned by Chris Gunness, Director of the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP), to remind the world of the evils of dictatorships everywhere and the destruction of Ukraine’s cultural identity, one of Putin’s war aims.

The Ukrainian Welcome Centre supports newly-arrived Ukrainian refugees in the UK. The Centre is a partnership initiative between the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of the Holy Family in London and the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB).

To donate to the appeal, visit the fundraising page. SANSARA will give the live premiere performance of A Quiet Night on Friday 25 November at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Warmth and humanity: British Youth Opera celebrates its 35th anniversary with Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love

Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Nancy Holt, Alexandria Moon, Jacob Bettinelli, Jack Holton & ensemble - British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)
Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Nancy Holt, Alexandria Moon, Jacob Bettinelli, Jack Holton & ensemble - British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love; director Harry Fehr, Southbank Sinfonia, conductor Marit Strindlund; British Youth Opera at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 24 August 2022

RVW's Shakespearean opera gets an anniversary staging in a engaging performance bringing out the work's lovely sense of warmth and humanity 

Vaughan Williams' 150th anniversary has not brought out productions of his operas at major UK opera companies, despite both ENO and Covent Garden having performed RVW's operas within the last 20 years or so. So, it is very heartening that British Youth Opera (celebrating its own 35th anniversary) chose RVW's Sir John in Love for its Summer production this year. 

Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Johannes Moore - British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)
Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Johannes Moore
British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)

Sir John in Love has a rather patchy performance history, written in 1928 it was premiered by the Royal College of Music in 1929, it had to wait until 1948 for a professional production. Sadler's Wells Opera performed it in 1958, and then it had to wait until 2006 for another professional outing in the UK, when ENO presented its production. The work has always had rather more student than professional productions. Partly, this is RVW's own fault, the work has a whopping 20 named singing roles which is double the cast of Verdi's Falstaff

British Youth Opera's production of RVW's Sir John in Love opened at Opera Holland Park on 24 August 2022. The production was directed by Harry Fehr, with Marit Strindlund (herself a BYO alumna) directing the Southbank Sinfonia, designs were by Nate Gibson and lighting by Chuma Emembolu

We saw the first of two casts (and admirably there was a cover cast too), with Johannes Moore as Falstaff, Armand Rabot as Pistol, Phillip Costovski as Bardolph, Grace Marie Wyatt as Anne Page, Eva Gheorghiu as Mistress Page, Jack Holton as Page, Lexie Moon as Mistress Ford, Jacob Bettinelli as Ford, Nancy Holt as Mistress Quickly, Steven van der Linden as Fenton, Joshua Saunders as Shallow, James Micklethwaite as Slender, Matthew Bawden as Simple, Justin Jacobs as Dr Caius, Emyr Jones as Sir Hugh Evans, Toki Hamano as Nym, Edward Kim as Rugby, Patrick Owston as the Host of the Garter Inn.

RVW's own libretto stays far closer to the play than does that of Boito for Verdi, though RVW introduces other poets to provide arias and ensembles, pause points in the mad gambol of plot. He also uses a large amount of folk-song, deliberately so, and whilst the orchestral accompaniment incorporates folk tunes, a lot of the folk material is diegetic; RVW's creates opportunities for the characters to sing the songs themselves. The work has no recitative as such, the dialogue flows as a sort of continuous orchestral accompanied arioso, and the orchestra is important as partner as well as accompanist. This can create challenges for a younger cast, there is a lot going on in the orchestra, but there are rich musical rewards. And the moments when things pause, when RVW introduced extra material are often completely magical.

Fehr and Gibson took advantage of Opera Holland Park's wide stage to present the three sets for all scenes in the first two acts, with the Ford's house at the centre. Scene changes (which are accompanied by orchestral interludes in the score) were effected by the entire cast moving the props so that the centre of the stage was always the scene being played out, but the other two might still have background action going on, thus giving us an idea of the continuing life of Windsor town. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Britain's only dedicated awards celebrating creative excellence by UK classical composers

Sarah Rodgers, David Bedford and Roger Wright at the British Composer Awards 2003
Sarah Rodgers, David Bedford and Roger Wright at the British Composer Awards 2003
Britain's only dedicated awards celebrating creative excellence by UK classical composers is celebrating the 20th edition of the awards, which takes place in November this year. Founded in 2003 as the British Composer Awards and now called the Ivors Composer Awards, the awards were created by BASCA (now the Ivors Academy) to celebrate the talent and innovation demonstrated by living composers in this country. The awards built on BASCA's legacy of presenting the Ivor Novello Awards (which started in 1957).

In 2019, BASCA became The Ivors Academy and the awards were renamed The Ivors Composer Awards, bringing them alongside the Ivor Novello Awards.

Since their founding, the awards have seen over 700 works by over 350 composers being nominated, and nearly 240 awards being presented. The first awards were presented in December 2003 when notable winners included Helen Grime, Jocelyn Pook, James Dillon and the late Jonathan Harvey. The most recognised composer is the late Sir Harrison Birtwistle who collected eight awards and composed a further eight nominated works. Judith Bingham, who celebrated her 70th birthday earlier this year, is the second most honoured with four awards and a further five nominations. Closely followed by Julian Anderson with four awards and four nominations. Rebecca Saunders, Kerry Andrew and Michael Finnissy have also received four awards since 2003.

The 20th Ivors Composer Awards take place on Tuesday 15 November at the British Museum in London. Sponsored by PRS for Music, the awards ceremony is in association with BBC Radio 3 who will broadcast an exclusive edition of the New Music Show dedicated to the awards on Saturday 18 November from 10pm.

Full details from The Ivors Academy website.

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