Friday 31 March 2023

BCMG in Bloom: celebrating cherry blossom time

Photography by Anthony Crutch at Cherry Blossom Concert 2022
Photography by Anthony Crutch at Cherry Blossom Concert 2022

It's cherry blossom time and on Sunday, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) will be celebrating with an outdoor concert in Oozells Square, Brindley Place, Birmingham on Sunday afternoon, 2 April 2023. 

Hanami, or flower viewing, is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the transient beauty of the cherry blossom. Every year, flocks of people join together for outdoor parties beneath the boughs of the blooming trees. So, BCMG will be performing a selection of music by Charlotte Bray, Hollie Harding, Dai Fujikura and György Ligeti to provide a distinctly contemporary music take on this celebration of Spring.

Tickets are free, and we are promised an hour-long, sensory event for all ages. Full details from the BCMG website.

Handel in Rome: Nardus Williams and the Dunedin Consort at Wigmore Hall

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome, built by Benedetto Pamphili's father
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome, built by Cardinal Pamphili's father
with interiors partly created by Cardinal Pamphili 

Handel in Rome - Handel: Overture to Admeto, Ero e Leandro, Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 6, Tra le fiamme, arias from Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno and La Resurrezione; Nardus Williams, Dunedin Consort, Matthew Truscott; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed 30 March 2023

The Dunedin Consort takes us to the homo-erotically charged, hothouse atmosphere of Handel's Rome in 1707 and 1708

The Dunedin Consort's Handel in Rome programme has been touring to Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, with Saffron Walden to come tonight. It was planned to feature Benjamin Bayl's debut directing the ensemble, but as it turned out that was not to be. So, on Thursday 30 March 2023, we caught the Dunedin Consort at Wigmore Hall in Handel in Rome, with soprano Nardus Williams, directed from the violin by Matthew Truscott (the ensemble's leader since 2021), with Stephen Farr on harpsichord.

The programme featured two of Handel's cantatas from his Italian period, Ero e Leandro and Tra le fiamme, plus arias from his two Italian oratorios, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno and La Resurrezione, and two later instrumental works, the overture from Admeto and the Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No.6.

Jasdeep Singh Degun releases single Aapki Khushi with Ashnaa Sasikaran from Opera North and South Asian Arts UK's Orpheus

Opera North and South Asian Arts UK's production of Orpheus was one of the runaway successes of last year. Based on the opera by Monteverdi, but featuring both Western classical and Indian classical performers, the production mixed Monteverdi's music with that of award-winning Leeds-based sitarist and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun, with Degun as co-music director of the performance alongside classical musician Lawrence Cummings.

Now, part of the opera has been released as a single on Peter Gabriel's Real World Records. Aapki Khushi 'Your joy is my joy' was written for young British Tamil singer Ashnaa Sasikaran by Degun. Sasikaran played Euridice in Orpheus and was the first thing Degun composed for the opera; in the song/aria Euridice expresses her love for her new husband, Orpheus.

The lyrics were translated from the original Italian text of the opera and rewritten by Degun’s sitar teacher Ustad Dharambir Singh and Orpheus percussionist Shahbaz Hussain. The string arrangements for the song are by Ashok Gupta, the Orpheus ensemble's assistant music director and harpsichordist.

Though the piece might feel distinctly contemporary, the song is rooted in the ancient musical tradition of Indian classical raags that composer and singer share. Aapki Khushi is on YouTube and can be downloaded [LinkTree]

The video features Ashnaa Sasikaran - vocals, Kirpal Panesar - esraj, Vijay Venkat - flute, R.N. Prakash - kanjira, Kayam Hussain - tabla, Glenn Sharp - guitar, Deepa Shakthi & Jasdeep Singh Degun - backing vocals, Céline Saout - harp, Cristina Ocaña Rosado & Susannah Simmons - violin, David Aspin & Katie Jarvis - viola, Liz Hanks - cello, Damián Rubido González - double bass, with music by Jasdeep Singh Degun, and string arrangements by Ashok Gupta.

Jasdeep Singh Degun in the control room, Aapki Khushi session, Chairworks Studio Castleford (Photo Opera North)
Jasdeep Singh Degun in the control room, Aapki Khushi session, Chairworks Studio Castleford (Photo Opera North)

Jasdeep Singh Degun will tour his debut album Anomaly in the UK and Europe in May and June. Like Orpheus, it is built on his command of both Western and Indian classical traditions, and I can highly recommend it. Full details of the tour on his website.

Thursday 30 March 2023

A joy in telling stories in music: the Manchester Camerata, the Monastery & music

Manchester Camerata's Music Cafe at the Monastery (Photo Duncan Elliott)
Manchester Camerata's Music Cafe at the Monastery (Photo Duncan Elliott)

If you visit Gorton in Manchester today, it is something of a puzzle why E.W. Pugin's gloriously exotic church, now known as The Monastery, even exists, surrounded as it is by desolation and modern housing estates. Built at the height of Manchester's 19th-century expansion, abandoned and nearly demolished in the 20th century it has been re-invented as a community hub and resource, as well as the home to one of Manchester's liveliest ensembles, the Manchester Camerata.

In the mid-19th century, Gorton was a hive of industry, home to a number of industrial plants. The growing population needed religious support and a group of Belgian Franciscan friars came over and in the 1860s built a church as their base. Technically it was a friary, but it became known locally as the Monastery. When we were students in Manchester in the 1970s we called it the rocket ship, and it was in the then deeply unfashionable Victorian gothic style, designed by E.W. Pugin, son of the more famous A.W. Pugin.

The last friar left in 1989 and what followed is a typical story - sale to a rogue developer, abandonment, vandalisation, desolation. In the early 21st century a former choir boy and his wife rediscovered it and made it their mission to restore it and find a use. Now fully restored, missing buildings re-built and operating as a wedding and event venue, its rooms are let out for office space and Manchester Camerata is among the tenants. The money made from such commercial operations goes to the building's support and to funding the Monastery's many community activities including an important listening service.

The Monastery, Gorton, Manchester (Photo: Cnbrb/Wikipedia)
The Monastery, Gorton, Manchester (Photo: Cnbrb/Wikipedia)

Wednesday 29 March 2023

After Byrd: HEXAD Collective launches its concert series exploring hidden music for voices

The HEXAD Collective at Holy Trinity, Minchinhampton, December 2022
The HEXAD Collective at Holy Trinity,
Minchinhampton, December 2022
Piers Kennedy, William Cornysh, Anna Semple, William Byrd, Raffaella Aleotti, Claudio Monteverdi; HEXAD Collective; Crypt of the Priory Church of the Order of St John
Reviewed 28 March 2023

Launching its After Byrd series, the young vocal ensemble pairs Byrd with contemporary works and more in vibrant, engaged performances

The HEXAD Collective, a seven-strong vocal ensemble founded in 2019 by Daniel Gethin, went underground last night (28 March 2023) to launch its concert series, After Byrd: hidden music for voices. In the Crypt of the Priory Church of the Order of St John, HEXAD (Danni O'Neill, Anna Semple, Daniel Gethin, Gopal Kambo, Sebastian Hill, Simon Grant, Piers Kennedy) were joined by Hugh Cutting (countertenor) and Daniel Murphy (lute, theorbo) for a programme of Piers Kennedy, William Cornysh, Anna Semple (whose work featured on the 2022 Christmas album by Somerville College Choir, see my review), William Byrd, Raffaella Aleotti, and Monteverdi.

The crypt is the only surviving Medieval part of the Priory Church. Originally part of the home of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell, the church survived the order being disbanded at the Reformation but was badly damaged during World War Two. The surviving elements have been partially restored above ground, but below ground, the crypt is a wonderfully evocative space with a fine acoustic (though the temperature was a bit challenging). You can explore further at the modern museum on the adjacent site.

Crypt of the Priory Church of the Order of St John (Photo Museum of the Order of St John)
Crypt of the Priory Church of the Order of St John (Photo Museum of the Order of St John)

HEXAD is an eight-person vocal ensemble which includes two composers Anna Semple and Piers Kennedy, so their repertoire moves between Early Music and contemporary works written for them. The programme was book-ended by a pair of works by Kennedy and Semple from a project last year that HEXAD did around psalm texts first sung at the 1953 Coronation; intended as a Diamond Jubilee celebration, the project has taken on more resonance.

The go-to place for information about opera performances across the globe: we chat to Operabase's new CEO, Ulrike Köstinger

Operabase CEO, Ulrike Köstinger
Operabase CEO, Ulrike Köstinger

Since its founding in 1996 by Mike Gibb, the Operabase website has become somewhat ubiquitous in the opera world, providing the go-to place for information about opera performances across the globe, both for audience members and professionals. In 2017, Operabase was bought by Arts Consolidated, a Danish company that also owns Cue TV. Operabase has a new CEO, Ulrike Köstinger, who took over at the beginning of this year though she has been with the company for over two years and was previously chief content officer.

Tuesday 28 March 2023

Blake performs Blake: join composer Howard Blake for an 85th birthday celebration

Blake performs Blake:

The composer Howard Blake is still perhaps best known for one single piece of music, The Snowman. His famous song ‘Walking in the Air’ from it was the chart success that launched Aled Jones in 1985, whilst the concert version for narrator and orchestra is performed world-wide and the full-length ballet for Sadler’s Wells runs for a season every year in London. But Blake's extensive output is far more varied than this would lead you to believe. 

For the early part of his career he wrote numerous film scores, including The Duellists with Ridley Scott, A Month in the Country, and of course The Snowman. But his output stretches from a Piano Concerto commissioned to honour Diana, Princess of Wales, large-scale choral works and chamber music. 

I first met Howard in 2013 at a celebration for his 75th birthday at which he accompanied the brilliant young cellist Benedict Kloeckner in three works for cello and piano, two of which were created for Kloeckner. Now, ten years later, Howard and Benedict will be joined by Julian Trevelyan (piano), Lana Trotsovek (violin), Ian Byrne (viola), Boris Bijak (flute) and Andrew Marriner (clarinet) for a birthday celebration at St John's Smith Square on 10 May 2023 which includes three of trios, Violin Sonata and Piano Quartet.

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

47th St Magnus Festival

Hoy Kirk
Hoy Kirk

Spanning a week across around midsummer, the 47th St Magnus Festival takes place from 16 to 23 June 2023 in and around Orkney. The artistic director is Scottish composer Alasdair Nicolson, and his multi-genre programme spans the world premiere of David McNeish’s new play, Thora, directed by Gerda Stevenson, Scottish Ballet’s festival debut, its first major outdoor installation from Architects of Air, and a strong music line-up. Venues include the Pier Arts Centre, St Magnus Cathedral, churches nestled scenically on the coast, Stromness Town Hall, The Writing Room at Kirkwall Hotel and the Pickaquoy Centre.

The musical events include a pairing of young Scottish stars accordionist Ryan Corbett and trumpeter Aaron Akugbo, the Hebrides Ensemble in Ravel’s orchestral works in new arrangements by Nicolson, and a strong Dutch contingent including pianist Nikola Meeuwsen, baritone Maarten Koningsberger and the Ragazze Quartet including Winterreise in an arrangement by Dutch violist Wim ten Have.

Other performers include Florilegium in three programmes, 18th-century French music, Bach and his contemporaries at the Café Zimmerman, and Telemann's Tafelmusik, Scottish cellist Findlay Spence in two innovative programmes from Bach to Berio in venues across Orkney, and an ensemble of accordions from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, The Magnificent Squeezebox

The Festival’s own Chorus, a community choir that comes together under the direction of Paul Rendall for the Festival, will perform Faure's Requiem at St Magnus Cathedral accompanied by an ensemble of visiting performers, conducted by Matthew Hamilton, the new director of the Hallé Chorus in Manchester, with soprano Hilary Cronin and the Dutch baritone Maarten Koningsberger. 

Full details from the festival website.

Successfully integrated into the same eco-system: The Stoller Hall and Chetham's School of Music in Manchester

Manchester: left to right, Manchester Cathedral, the Victorian former Manchester Grammar School building, Chetham's 1421 buildings and The Stoller Hall.
Manchester: left to right, Manchester Cathedral, the Victorian former Manchester Grammar School building, Chetham's 15th century buildings and The Stoller Hall.
In the foreground left, the National Football Museum

The Stoller Hall in Manchester is the most recent addition to an ensemble of buildings that goes back to the 15th century. At that period, housing was built for the clergy of Manchester Collegiate Church, now the Cathedral. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Humphrey Chetham, in 1653 the buildings became a school for 20 poor boys along with a free public library. This historic library, which still exists, played host to Marx and Engels during their influential time in Manchester. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an expansion of the site and at one point the Manchester Grammar School, Nicholls Hospital School and Chetham’s School all shared the site. In the 1970s, Chetham's became a specialist music school, and in 2017, The Stoller Hall was opened. This provides Manchester with a first-class smaller-scale hall as well as creating a new school facility. My photograph above shows the site today, left to right, Manchester Cathedral, the Victorian former Manchester Grammar School building, Chetham's 15th century buildings and The Stoller Hall.

If you visit The Stoller Hall for a concert, then what you experience is a well-designed modern hall with a central atrium and an additional smaller recital hall. The main hall's acoustics are very fine. I heard the Manchester Camerata rehearsing their latest Mozart, Made in Manchester programme with their artistic director Gábor Takács-Nagy and pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, and the warmly responsive acoustic seemed ideal for the music.

Manchester Camerata, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy at The Stoller Hall
Manchester Camerata, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy at The Stoller Hall

What such a visit gives no hint of is that the hall is part of the school campus, when in public use the hall is locked down with no access to the school. 

Monday 27 March 2023

'Let other pens dwell on misery and grief' - a joyous ensemble performance of Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park from RNCM Opera

Jonathan Dove - Mansfield Park - RNCM Opera (Photo Robin Clewley)
Jonathan Dove - Mansfield Park - RNCM Opera (Photo Robin Clewley)

Jonathan Dove: Mansfield Park; director Stephen Barlow, conductor Lee Reynolds, RNCM Opera; Royal Northern College of Music
Reviewed 26 March 2023

A young cast brings the operatic Mansfield Park to life in an engaging & ultimately moving production that placed Austen herself at its centre

Jonathan Dove's orchestral adaptation of his 2011 opera Mansfield Park (originally written for soloists and piano duet) debuted at The Grange Festival in 2017 [see my review]. With its cast of youthful characters, and a Mozartian-sized orchestra, the work makes a good fit for music colleges and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) planned a production in 2020. Two months into rehearsals director Stephen Barlow and the cast came to a halt and the production was shelved. Amazingly it has been resuscitated.

On Sunday 26 March, Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton's Mansfield Park opened at the RNCM as part of the college's 50th anniversary celebrations. Lee Reynolds conducted, Stephen Barlow directed, with designs by Yannis Thavoris, lighting by Jason Taylor, choreography by Bethan Rhys William. Olivia Tringham was Fanny Price, Rebecca Anderson was Lady Bertram, Jonathan Hill was Sir Thomas Bertram, Jessica Hopkins was Maria Bertram, Sarah Winn was Julia Bertram, Conrad Chatterton was Edmund Bertram, Christina Orjis was Aunt Norris, Anusha Bobby was Mary Crawford, Henry Strutt was Henry Crawford, and Liam Forrest was Mr Rushworth. The cast was largely new for 2023, with Olivia Tringham (Fanny) and Christina Orjis (Aunt Norris) returning from 2020.

Jonathan Dove: Mansfield Park - Olivia Tringham - RNCM Opera (Photo Robin Clewley)
Jonathan Dove: Mansfield Park - Olivia Tringham - RNCM Opera (Photo Robin Clewley)

Sunday 26 March 2023

The latest in Manchester Camerata's Mozart, Made in Manchester series featured a lovely creative dialogue between Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy and the players

Mozart, Made in Manchester - Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy, Manchester Camerata - The Stoller Hall (Photo Manchester Camerata)
Mozart, Made in Manchester - Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy, Manchester Camerata - The Stoller Hall (Photo Manchester Camerata)

Mozart: Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Piano Concertos Nos. 11 in F major, 12 in A major & 13 in C major; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy; The Stoller Hall
Reviewed 25 March 2023

The latest Mozart, Made in Manchester with three concertos from the 1780s, in performances full of enjoyment, energy and real sense of presence

The Manchester Camerata, artistic director Gábor Takács-Nagy and pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet,took us to 1780s Vienna on Saturday 25 March 2023. As part of their ongoing Mozart, Made in Manchester series (performing and recording all of Mozart's piano concertos), at The Stoller Hall, we heard the overture to Mozart's opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 11 in F major, 12 in A major & 13 in C major.

Mozart had left the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg (managing to be creatively dismissed) in 1781, settling in Vienna and remaining freelance for the rest of his career. He put on his first season of subscription concerts in Vienna in 1782-82 and for these he wrote three concertos, now numbered nos. 11, 12 and 13. Relatively compact works, the wind parts are comparatively limited, and Mozart advertised the concertos as being available in chamber versions with just string accompaniment, but in the right hands the wind has a real part to play. 

Writing for himself, rather than a patron, the works are compact, yes, but in them Mozart is working out the balances between soloist and orchestra, using his creative imagination to develop the concerto form.

Saturday 25 March 2023

Intriguing, illuminating, frustrating: Henning Kraggerud and RNCM Chamber Orchestra

Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 3 - Henning Kraggerud & RNCM Chamber Orchestra - RNCM
Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 3 - Henning Kraggerud & RNCM Chamber Orchestra - RNCM

Grieg, arr. Kraggerud & Lund: Violin Sonata No. 3, Bach, arr. Kraggerud & Lund: Goldberg Variations (excerpts); Henning Kraggerud, RNCM Chamber Orchestra; Royal Northern College of Music
Reviewed 24 March 2023

Grieg and Bach orchestrated, inwonderfully engaged and vital performances from RNCM Chamber Orchestra under the charismatic Henning Kraggerud

The Royal Northern College of Music's (RNCM) Original Voices Festival celebrates new interpretations of classic works and as part of it, on Friday 24 March 2023, Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud (artistic director of the Arctic Philharmonic and International Chair in Violin at the RNCM) directed the RNCM Chamber Orchestra in a programme of orchestrations of smaller-scale works. So we heard Kraggerud and Bernd Lund's orchestral expansion of Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 3, and a selection of movements from Bach's Goldberg Variations

A lockdown success story: St Mary's Perivale and its amazing programme of 120 recitals per year, viewed live and online

Piano recital by Alasdair Beatson at St Mary's Perivale (Photo : John Ross)
Piano recital by Alasdair Beatson at St Mary's Perivale (Photo : John Ross)

One of the success stories of Lockdown, St Mary's Perivale has managed the tricky task of creating an engaging concert series, with a strong focus on young artists, that has both an online and a live presence. Run by a team of volunteers, led by artistic director Hugh Mather, the concert series is based at a redundant church in Ealing where they give around 120 concerts per year; three per week during 'term time' with concerts usually on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  There are usually two weekend festivals per year, and they recently had their New Faces Piano Festival where eight pianists gave their Perivale debut recitals.

The church, St Mary's Perivale, dates from before the 13th century with a major Victorian renovation and then in the 1960s urgent repairs were undertaken as well as a modernisation that stripped out the pews. The church was made redundant in 1972.

Their concentration is on piano and chamber music, last year a little over half the recitals were solo piano, plus duos, trios and occasional larger ensembles, together with a monthly jazz concert. Eminent musicians also come to give lectures, and recent visitors have included György Pauk, Tasmin Little, and Peter Donohoe with Peter Frankl to come. Concerts last around an hour, and Hugh Mather asks performers to play mainly mainstream repertoire, as they need the programmes to appeal to a general audience.

Thursday 23 March 2023

Touches of Sweet Harmony: Leeds Lieder's 2023 festival

Touches of Sweet Harmony: Leeds Lieder's 2023 festival

This year's Leeds Lieder Festival is the biggest ever, running from 9 to 17 June 2023 having expanded from four to nine days. Under artistic director Joseph Middleton, guest of honour Dame Janet Baker is joined by performers including Véronique Gens, Sarah Connolly,  Mark Padmore, Louise Alder, Christine Rice, Peter Brathwaite, James Newby,  Kate Royal, Ailish Tynan, Graham Johnson, Julius Drake, and Susan Manoff.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, Graham Johnson will be giving a lecture recital on the great song cycle with tenor Ben Johnson. The festival has commissioned Errollyn Wallen to compose a song cycle for voice and piano, Night Thoughts, which will be performed by the mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton as part of the festival’s closing gala.

A new initiative for 2023 is the introduction of A Leeds Songbook – twelve composers from the UK’s leading conservatoires and Northern universities have been paired with Leeds-based poets to create songs that will tell unique stories about the people of Leeds. These new songs will be performed in concert by the 2023 Leeds Lieder Young Artists, postgraduate singers and pianists drawn from across the UK, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and South East Asia.

An important strand in each festival is the Young Artists Programme. This year, twenty-four outstanding Young Artists will participate in a series of masterclasses, and perform to festival audiences at a showcase concert, a study event led by Dr Katy Hamilton and at the late-night Lieder Lounge in the informal setting of Leeds Conservatoire’s rooftop bar.

The popular Bring and Sing! event is inviting amateur singers to come together to perform Mozart’s Requiem at Leeds Minster alongside the Young Artists, and for the first time Leeds Lieder will incorporate its two award-winning Learning and Participation projects, Living Lieder and Discovering Lieder, into the main festival with two school concerts featuring nearly 1000 children at Pudsey Civic Hall.

The musical walking trail SongPath returns this year to the rich natural setting of the 900-year-old ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, led by singers Jess Dandy and Joanna Harries, and the Festival sees a collaboration with members of the Orchestra of Opera North, their Head of Music, David Cowan, and tenor Nick Pritchard in a recital of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

Faggots and their Friends, dimensional moving photography, Sonic Geography & AFRODEUTSCHE: Manchester International Festival 2023

Philip Venables & Ted Huffman (Photo: Dominic Mercier)
Philip Venables & Ted Huffman
(Photo: Dominic Mercier)

This year's Manchester International Festival runs from 29 June to 16 July 2023, organised by Factory International, artistic director John McGrath. Amongst the myriad of artistic events on offer at the festival, the classical music programme will feature the world premiere of a musical adaptation of Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta’s cult 1977 book The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, created by composer Philip Venables and director Ted Huffman. The work is a reimagining of the history of the world through a queer lens with a cast of actors, singers and musicians.

Philip Venables said: "Faggots and their Friends is both a joyful and sinister bedtime story, a playful re-telling of 'how we got where we are today', with song, music, dancing, improvisation, storytelling and heaps of glorious faggotry."

Composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto is collaborating with Tin Drum on KAGAMI, a mixed-reality concert event fusing dimensional moving photography with the real world. Whatever that means! We are assured that audiences are invited to wear optically transparent devices to view the virtual Sakamoto performing on piano alongside dimensional art aligned with the music.

Sonic Geography will feature a group of contemporary works, performed by the BBC Philharmonic, pianist Ralph Van Raat, conductor Vimbayi Kaziboni, in music by John Luther AdamsAlissa Firsova and Ailís Ní Ríain.

DJ, composer and producer AFRODEUTSCHE joins the Manchester Camerata for an evening merging contemporary classical, techno, house and electro. And Anna Meredith joins forces with the Royal Northern College of Music Festival Orchestra for a one-off performance of Meredith's album FIBS.

Other visitors include trans pioneer and icon of the cabaret scene, Justin Vivian Bond, and Alan Lane directs a performance of Britten's community opera Noyes Fludde with the Manchester Collective alongside an army of performers from communities in Holbeck and Manchester.

Full details from the festival website.


Wednesday 22 March 2023

Pilgrim's Progress, The Faery Bride, The Age of Aspiration & more: the Three Choirs Festival launches its 2023 programme for Gloucester

The Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral (Photo: Michael Whitefoot)
The Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral (Photo: Michael Whitefoot)

This year's Three Choirs Festival takes place from 22 to 29 July 2023 in and around Gloucester, with over 60 events featuring 21 premieres and music by 50 living composers. The festival is continuing its celebrations of Vaughan Williams' 150th birthday with performances of Sancta CivitasPilgrim's Progress and Flos Campi along with other large-scale works such as Elgar's The Apostles and Bach's St John Passion

A new feature at this year's festival is the Three Choirs Festival Voices, a choir which is open to everyone, with no audition required and a reduced rehearsal period in comparison to that of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus. It is hoped that the Three Choirs Festival Voices will provide more opportunities for local singers to take part in the festival and this year, the new choir will be performing Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs  and Graham Fitkin’s The Age of Aspiration, his 2021 work drawing on the life of the Cornish chemist, Humphrey Davy, to illuminate the social and political effects of the industrial revolution.

The main Three Choirs Festival Chorus is drawn from auditioned singers in and around Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, with the largest contingent each year coming from the host city. Amateur choral singers have been taking part in the festival since the middle of the 19th century to augment the cathedral choirs of boy trebles and male altos, tenors and basses. In 2010, the Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir was established for singers aged 14-25. 

The festival opens with Adrian Partington conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (resident at the festival) in a programme which includes Elgar's Violin Concerto, Vaughan Williams' Sancta Civitas and a new work by Eleanor Alberga (22/7/23). On the Sunday (23/7/23), RVW's Flos Campi is performed alongside a new work by Ronald Corp and Gavin Higgins' The Faery Bride, his cantata based on the ancient Welsh legend of the Lady of the Lake, which premiered at last year's Aldeburgh Festival, with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

RVW's opera The Pilgrims Progress (24/7/23) is being performed in a semi-staged production in collaboration with British Youth Opera. Charlotte Corderoy (an alumna of the festival's Youth Choir) conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the festival Youth Choir, with Ross Cumming as Pilgrim and an array of young soloists from British Youth Opera.

Bach's St John Passion (27/7/23) will feature James Gilchrist as the Evangelist with the Three Cathedral Choirs and Corelli Orchestra, conducted by Geraint Bowen. And there is also a chance to hear Stölzel’s Passion, a work that Bach performed in 1734 and which influenced the Christmas Oratorio. Other interesting repertoire includes Holst's wonderful Ode to Death, and a choral version of RVW's Tallis Fantasia. 

The festival closes with Elgar's The Apostles, with Adrian Partington conducting the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and Philharmonia Orchestra with soloists Philippa Boyle, Martha McLorinan, Michael Bell, John Savournin, James Geidt , and Dingle Yandell as Jesus.

Further new and contemporary music at the festival includes works by Randall Svane, Francis Pott, Liz Lane, Nilufar Habibian, Jonathan Dove, David Bednall, Judith Bingham, Roxanna Panufnik, James MacMillan, Janet Wheeler, Roderick Williams, Anna Clyne, Pawel Łukaszewski and Paul Fincham's opera for young people, The Happy Princess.

Of course, the festival is not just about the large-scale evening concerts, mornings, afternoons and late evenings are full of events, and there is the regular programme of choral services in the Cathedral. There is also the Festival Village when you want to take a moment to relax

Celebrating World Heart Beat Academy's new concert hall with Julian Joseph's 'Kayryouacou' performed by violinist Harriet Mackenzie

On Friday 24 March 2023, violinist Harriet Mackenzie and her Celoniatus Ensemble are hosting a concert in aid of the World Heart Beat Academy to celebrate the opening of the academy's new state-of-the-art performance venue in Nine Elms. Mackenzie will be giving the London premiere Julian Joseph's concerto, Kayryouacou, alongside music by Vivaldi and more. Kayryouacou was written for Mackenzie and was inspired by the island of Joseph's father’s birth, the Grenadines.

Mackenzie teaches violin at the academy and Joseph was the founder of the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy at World Heart Beat Academy.

The World Heart Beat Academy offers support to disadvantaged children learnning music and it opens its doors to any child wanting to learn music and provides free instruments and tuition. The academy started life in 2012 on Kimber Road in Wandsworth, in a converted space above Charles Wilson Engineers Ltd. It now welcomes over 350 students to its music learning space each week, offering a broad range of instrumental lessons, as well as the chance to play in ensembles such as jazz, orchestra and gig bands. The opening of a new concert hall marks a new chapter for the academy, enabling it to present concerts by emerging artists from the academy alongside international stars, and the hall's state-of-the-art recording facilities given students further inspirational tools.

Further details and tickets for the concert.

Late romanticism and youthful vitality: Cello Concertos by Enrique Casals & Édouard Lalo from Jan Vogler & Moritzburg Festival Orchestra

Enrique Casals & Édouard Lalo: Cello Concertos; Jan Vogler, Moritzburg Festival Orchestra, Josep Caballé Domenech; Sony Classical  Lalo's lesser known concerto alongside the late Romanticism of Enrique Casals' almost unknown concerto, with stylishly elegant solos from Jan Vogler and wonderfully vital playing from the young festival orchestra   Enrique Casals was cellist Pablo Casals' younger brother, and Enrique Casals' Cello Concerto was written in 1946, ostensibly for Enrique's daughter Pilar but you feel that Pablo's spirit is not far away. Enrique wrote it in his beach house at Sant Salvador, and the spirit of Catalan music is never far away.  On this new disc from Sony Classical, Catalan conductor Josep Caballé Domenech and the Moritzburg Festival Orchestra with soloist Jan Vogler perform Enrique Casals' Cello Concerto and Édouard Lalo's Cello Concerto.
Enrique Casals & Édouard Lalo: Cello Concertos; Jan Vogler, Moritzburg Festival Orchestra, Josep Caballé Domenech; Sony Classical
Reviewed 21 March 2023

Lalo's lesser-known concerto alongside the late Romanticism of Enrique Casals' almost unknown concerto, with stylishly elegant solos from Jan Vogler and wonderfully vital playing from the young festival orchestra

Enrique Casals was cellist Pablo Casals' younger brother, and his Cello Concerto was written in 1946, ostensibly for Enrique's daughter Pilar but you feel that Pablo's playing was in his mind too (though by then Pablo Casals had ceased to play in Spain because of Franco's regime). Enrique wrote the concerto in his beach house at Sant Salvador, and the spirit of Catalan music is never far away.

On this new disc from Sony Classical, Catalan conductor Josep Caballé Domenech and the Moritzburg Festival Orchestra with soloist Jan Vogler perform Enrique Casals' Cello Concerto and Édouard Lalo's Cello Concerto.

The Moritzburg Festival was founded in 1993 as a tribute to the immensely inspirational Marlboro Festival in the United States of America. In a booklet article, cellist Jan Vogler (artistic director and co-founder of the Moritzburg Festival, and also the Intendant of the Dresden Music Festival) talks about how he and his brother Kai (another co-founder) attended the Marlboro Festival in the late 1980s, and how the founding of the Moritzburg Festival Orchestra, made up of musicians from the annual Moritzburg Festival Academy, took its inspiration from Marlboro. A significant visitor to Marlboro in the 1960s was Pablo Casals and this disc is something of a tribute to him.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

27 ensembles, 80 performances & recordings in over 50 locations: the Continuo Foundation celebrates Early Music Day with a new round of grants

Continuo Foundation round five grantees

Today (21 March 2023) is Early Music Day. In addition to the many events organised across Europe, the Continuo Foundation is celebrating by announcing the recipients of its latest grant round and the launch of a new digital platform for early music, Continuo Connect, which is intended to be the most comprehensive listing of period instrument performances in the UK. 

The foundation's latest grant awards will support over 80 performances and recordings in more than 50 locations over the next six months. Of the 27 ensembles whose projects have been awarded a grant, there are 12 groups that have not previously received Continuo grants, and eight recently formed ensembles, double the number anticipated. This reflects the foundation’s stated priorities: extending support as widely as possible and helping recently formed ensembles and their musicians to establish and promote themselves. 

The 27 recipients of Continuo’s fifth grant round are:

Apollo’s Cabinet, Divertissements Chinois, Dunedin Consort, Ensemble Augelletti, Ensemble Hesperi, Fiori Musicali, Flauguissimo, Florilegium, Hex, HGOAntiqua Orchestra, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, Irlandiani Players, London Early Opera, Manchester Baroque, Musica Antica Rotherhithe, Musica d’Outrora, Palisander, Parnassus, Passamezzo, Queen Victoria’s Consort, Red Priest Strings, Rose Consort of Viols, Spinacino Consort, Spiritato, The City Musick,, The Telling and The Vauxhall Band.

The foundation's new digital hub, Continuo Connect, is designed to open access to period instrument performances for audiences across the UK and to provide digital resources for musicians. The impact of Continuo’s grants is expected to be amplified by this new platform. Continuo Connect currently features more than 90 upcoming events, listed by the 87 ensembles signed up to the site so far. The event listing, searchable by location, informs users about concerts in both well-known and smaller community venues often overlooked due to a lack of publicity. Continuo will market Connect on behalf of all the ensembles, aiming to attract larger and more diverse audiences,

Full details from the Continuo Foundation website.

Friends are nothing, Family nothing, all the world is a wilderness - premiere recording of Jonathan Dove's In Exile

Jonathan Dove: In Exile; Simon Keenlyside, Raphael Wallfisch, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Gergely Madaras; Lyrita

Jonathan Dove: In Exile; Simon Keenlyside, Raphael Wallfisch, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Gergely Madaras; Lyrita
Reviewed 21 March 2023

Inspired by Raphael Wallfisch's family history, this remarkable work for solo baritone, solo cello and orchestra proves to be quite remarkable - dark, complex and profound

Composer Jonathan Dove and cellist Raphael Wallfisch have been talking about Dove writing a cello concerto for Wallfisch for over ten years and this finally came to fruition with the premiere of In Exile at Symphony Hall, Birmingham in December 2021. These performances, recorded live, are the basis for this new disc from Lyrita, in which Gergely Madaras conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Dove's In Exile with baritone Simon Keenlyside and cellist Raphael Wallfisch.

The work is not strictly a cello concerto as there are two soloists, baritone and cello, both incarnating different aspects of the protagonist of In Exile. The work was inspired by Wallfisch's own family history, his father fled to Palestine in 1937 whilst his mother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, is a concentration camp survivor. In Exile has a series of texts assembled by Alasdair Middleton including an anonymous 10th century text The Wayfarer, Dante, Shakespeare, Emily Lawless (1845-1913), Khalil Gilbran, Kaveh Bassiri from The 99 Names of Exile, and Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), to explore ideas of exile. Cast roughly as a day in the life of an exile in a foreign land, the texts are bleak, beautiful, haunting and very challenging.

Opera Vision's Next Generation podcast

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Oper Frankfurt (Photo Barbara Aumuller)
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Oper Frankfurt (Photo Barbara Aumuller)

I have (rather belatedly) been catching up with Nina Brazier's podcast for OperaVision. Brazier is a staff director at Oper Frankfurt and her podcast, which has been running monthly since September, explores the experiences of young singers taking part in young artist programmes across Europe, at Opera for Peace, the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Oper Frankfurt and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia. 

The latest episode, from 1 March 2023, entitled Oper Frankfurt: just three days talks to soprano Nombulelo Yende as she stepped onto the stage at Oper Frankfurt for her role debut as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with just a few rehearsals and Brazier also talks to distinguished mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy about her time as a member of the Oper Frankfurt studio. The result illuminates the process, challenges and rewards of such high intensity demands, in this case Yende singing Tatiana with Brazier talking to her both during preparations and just after the performance, with Yende being candid about the challenge (and rewards) of making a role debut at such speed. The episode also helps to explain the German system of fest contracts, with Murrihy talking about how such a contract provided you with variety and the ability to take risks, to try things out. And we hear from Yende performing Tatiana's Letter Scene.

February's episode, Opera for Peace: great expectations focuses on tenor Leonardo Sanchez as he takes part in an Opera for Peace academy with coaching from tenor Lawrence Brownlee and Julia Lagahuzère director of Opera for Peace, bringing alive the rewards and challenges of this high intensity training. And there is a chance to hear Sanchez in Gounod and Puccini.

Brazier has a way of creating clear and direct conversations, and the podcasts not only entertain but they help illuminate aspects of the opera business that can often remain hidden. We enjoy hearing young singers from young artist programmes performing, but this series provides a look at the what goes on underneath and helps explain why these young singers give themselves so many personal challenges.

Explore more at OperaVision's Next Generation podcast -

Monday 20 March 2023

Rachmaninoff, Rossini, young artists and John Casken's The Shackled King: the 2023 Newbury Spring Festival

Sheepdrove, one of the venues for this year's Newbury Spring Festival

The Newbury Spring Festival has been running since 1979 and this year runs from 6 to 20 May 2023, and there is a fine classical music line-up. Rachmaninoff makes a big showing this year, thanks to the 150th anniversary - pianist Steven Osborne makes his festival debut with an all-Rachmaninoff programme, pianist Barry Douglas joins the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Olari Elts for Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 1, as part of the Young Artist Recital series Maciej Kułakowski cello and Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula piano perform Rachaninoff's Cello Sonata, and Rachmaninoff is the featured composer for the Sheepdrove Piano Competition, which is open candidates aged 26 and under from the eight major UK music colleges.

Soprano Lucy Crow will be appearing twice at the festival. She and pianist Anna Tilbrook will be giving a recital that features Strauss' Four Last Songs whilst Crow will join soloists Claire Barnett-Jones mezzo soprano, Andres Presno tenor, Ashley Riches bass, and the Newbury Spring Festival Chorus, conductor Tom Primrose, for a performance of Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle in its original version with accompaniment from two pianos and harmonium.

Bass Sir John Tomlinson, soprano Rozanna Madylus, pianist Anna Tilbrook and Counterpoise will bringing John Casken's The Shackled King. Written for John Tomlinson, the parallels between the roles of Shakespeare’s Lear and Wagner’s Wotan are explored in Casken’s work, which begins towards the end of Shakespeare’s play and evokes the story through the medium of flashbacks.

Other visitors include the Symphonic Brass of London Quintet, the Tallis Scholars (who are celebrating their 50th anniversary), the Doric String Quartet, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Emilia Hoving. Clarinettist Julian Bliss brings his jazz septet, whilst horn player Ben Goldscheider and his trio will be performing a programme of Mozart, Brahms and Huw Watkins. The Young Artist Recital series includes Ensemble Augeletti, and trumpeter Matilda Lloyd. The festival is opened by saxophonist Jess Gilham and her ensemble.

Sheepdrove, pictured above, is one of the venues for this year's festival. It is an organic mixed farm with an operationally net zero carbon "green building" powered entirely by 100% renewable energy (solar, wind and geo) which was opened by HM King Charles, III, then HRH Prince of Wales, in 2004.

Full details from the festival website.

Gilbert & Sullivan : All-singing, all-dancing small-scale Ruddigore at Wilton's Music Hall

Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore - Peter Benedict, Charli Baptie - Oracle Productions at Wilton's Music Hall (Photo by Mark Senior)
Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore - Peter Benedict, Charli Baptie - Oracle Productions at Wilton's Music Hall (Photo by Mark Senior)

Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore; Madeline Robinson, Charli Baptie, Rosemary Ashe, Joe Winter, Kieran Parrott, Peter Benedict, Graham Stone, Steve Watts, director: Peter Benedict, musical director: Tom Noyes; Oracle Productions at Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed 17 March 2023

An engaging take on the G&S classic with winning individual performances and the sheer energy of the dancing chorus, you could not help but be won over.

It is rather apt that Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore be played at Wilton's Music Hall, the operetta premiered in 1887 and the present theatre opened in 1878. Not that Gilbert or Sullivan would have imagined the one being paired with the other, their theatrical and musical requirements were rather more large-scale (think of the opening chorus of Patience, 'twenty love-sick maidens'). But, with few London theatres remaining from this period, it was delightful to encounter Oracle Productions' enterprising small-scale production of Ruddigore at Wilton's, with Madeline Robinson as Rose Maybud, Charlie Baptie as Mad Margaret, Rosemary Ashe as Dame Hannah, Joe Winter as Robin Oakapple, Kieran Parrott as Richard Dauntless, Peter Benedict as Sir Despard Murgatroyd, Graham Stone as Old Adam and Steve Watts as Sir Roderick. The production was directed by Peter Benedict and Tom Noyes accompanied from a keyboard/synthesizer with contributions from Luca Kocsmárszky (violin).

This was definitely a slimline production, we had three bridesmaids (Ellie Sayles, Eleanor Monaghan and Rosie Weston) and Kieran Parrott's Richard Dauntless was accompanied by two shipmates  (Max Panks and Edward Watchman). The original libretto's slightly awkward mixing of different chorus groups was simplified and we had bridesmaids and sailors throughout, with the chorus of ghosts in Act Two being sung off-stage. But if this sounds thin pickings, then it is worth bearing in mind that Wilton's stage is not large and the six managed to fill it admirably especially as this was definitely an all-singing, all-dancing production (choreography by Adam Haigh).

Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore - Joe Winter, Madeline Robinson - Oracle Productions at Wilton's Music Hall (Photo by Mark Senior)
Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore - Joe Winter, Madeline Robinson - Oracle Productions at Wilton's Music Hall (Photo by Mark Senior)

Saturday 18 March 2023

A nice mix of Wagner, Franck and Saint-Saens: Anton Hanson of Quatuor Hanson, on the chamber version of Chausson's Poème on their disc, Chants nostalgiques

Quatuor Hanson (Jules Dussap, Simon Dechamber, Gabrielle Lafait, Anton Hanson )
Quatuor Hanson (Jules Dussap, Simon Dechambre, Gabrielle Lafait, Anton Hanson )

Having already released discs of quartets by Haydn (All Shall Not Die), Ligeti, Bartok, and Dutilleux (Not All Cats Are Grey) as well as George Crumb's Black Angels, the French ensemble, Quatuor Hanson, joined forces with soprano Marie-Laure Garnier and pianist Célia Oneto Bensaid to release Chants nostalgiques on the b records label, featuring music by Chausson, Faure and Charlotte Sohy. The centrepiece of the disc is composer Franck Villard's transcription of Ernest Chausson's Poème de l’amour et de la mer for voice, piano and string quartet, and the companion pieces feature Chausson's Chanson perpetuel, Fauré's La Bonne Chanson and Sohy's Chants nostalgiques.

Anton Hanson, the first violin in the quartet, explains that the repertoire for the disc was selected very much in discussion with Marie-Laure Garnier and Célia Oneto Bensaid. All six are friends, having known each other since being students at the Paris Conservatoire. The disc was intended to feature the first recording of Villard's transcription of the Chausson Poème which Anton enjoys like this. He has played in the original orchestral version of the Poème and whilst you do not get the operatic and symphonic sweep of the original, the chamber version brings lots of freedom to the individual lines. He describes the music as very linear, with lots of horizontal lines and it was lovely to try the flexibility of the chamber transcription. Also, it is rare to have such a large-scale piece for these small forces. Usually, they are playing short pieces or song cycles, but here it is a single long sweep. It was a nice challenge, having to tell a long story.

Friday 17 March 2023

Bringing song to South East London: Jocelyn Freeman's SongEasel celebrates its fifth anniversary with Quintessential Song

SongEasel's 2020 project, 'MiniWinterreise' with Nigerian soprano, Francesca Chiejina
SongEasel's 2020 project, MiniWinterreise with Nigerian soprano, Francesca Chiejina

Pianist Jocelyn Freeman's SongEasel, tag-line 'Bringing song to South East London', is celebrating its fifth anniversary (and the achievement of charitable status) with Quintessential Song, a series that presents seven recitals across South East London. Quintessential Song is launched by baritone Stephan Loges and pianist Jocelyn Freeman on 22 April 2023 at Blackheath Halls where they will be performing Brahms, Robert & Clara Schuman, plus Marie von Kehler and Ethel Smyth. Also at Blackheath Halls, soprano Lorena Paz Lieto and pianist Sholto Kynoch will be performing songs by Walton, Poulenc and Ginastera.

Britten's Canticles are being performed at lunchtime concerts at St Laurence's Church, Catford, where SongEasel first began. Stuart Jackson (tenor) will be joined by George Strivens (horn) and Jocelyn Freeman (piano) for Canticle I & III, Ben Johnson (tenor), Theo Platt (baritone), Tim Morgan (countertenor) and Keval Shah (piano) perform Canticle II & IV, and Aoife Miskelly (soprano) and Anne Denholm (harp) perform Canticle V as part of a recital for voice and harp.

And celebrating the anniversary proper, a larger ensemble gathers at St Catherine’s Church, Hatcham, when James Newby (baritone), Leon Bosch (double bass), the Piatti Quartet and Jocelyn Freeman (piano) will perform Schubert’s Trout Quintet alongside songs by Schubert and Finzi.

As always, SongEasel programmes recitals in tandem with education and outreach projects that engage the local community. This series includes a schools programme exploring songs from around the world, exploring  Britten Pears Arts' Friday Afternoons library. Shakespeare's Full Fathom Five from The Tempest is the inspiration for a Young Artist Programme at Blackheath Halls themed around the sea in all its power and variety, with English settings alongside Brahms and some watery Chinese songs. 

SongEasel also offers an informal Fringe Programme, which Freeman conceived during the first year of the pandemic as a way of combatting isolation. 'I wanted to recreate the normality of the musical café culture of 19th-century Paris, where friends could gather for drinks and enjoy light entertainment: basically the musical equivalent of going down the pub to the footy! We launched the programme last year and the response has been amazing.'

SongEasel's Quintessential Song runs from 22 April to 2 July 2023, further information from their website.

Italian opera, Monteverdi and more: the Northern Aldborough Festival in 2023

St Andrew’s Church, Aldborough
St Andrew’s Church, Aldborough

The Northern Aldborough Festival takes place in the picturesque Roman village of Aldborough, just half an hour from York or Harrogate. The festival offers audiences the chance to experience fine performances in a rural village setting. This year, the festival runs from 15 to 24 June 2023.

It opens with Bampton Classical Opera in a double bill of one-act comedies by Haydn, La Cantarina and The Apothecary. Keeping the Italian opera theme, trumpeter Matilda Lloyd and her ensemble will be presenting a programme of music from Italian operas. The Armonico Consort with the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, director Christopher Monks will be bringing the festival to a close with Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610.

In between, there is a chance to hear pianist Sunwook Kim (the first Asian winner, and the youngest for 40 years, of the Leeds International Piano Competition) in Beethoven sonatas, historian Lucy Worsley on Agatha Christie, Senegalese kora (harp) player, Jali Fily Cissokho and a Young Artists’ Showcase providing a platform for upcoming Yorkshire talent.

The festival is also presenting its inaugural New Voices Competition. For the competition, young singers will perform live at the festival in the semi-final and grand-final, judged by a distinguished panel, headed by soprano, Dame Felicity Lott.

Full details from the festival website.

A real celebration of a maverick talent: Snakebite! Stephen Montague at 80, at St John's Smith Square

Stephen Montague celebrating his birthday on 10 March 1944 with his mother in Baldwinsville, NY (Photo courtesy of Stephen Montague)
Stephen Montague celebrating his birthday on 10 March 1944 with his mother in Baldwinsville, NY (Photo courtesy of Stephen Montague)

Snakebite: Stephen Montague at 80
 - Stephen Montague: Introit St John's, Snakebite!, Beyond the Stone Horizon, Dark Sun - August 1945; Southbank Sinfonia, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, the Centre for Young Musicians, Lambeth Music Service, Contemporary Music for All,  Kentish Town Cantores, Augustina Kapoti, Rob Smith, Richard Heason, Stephen Montague, Xenia Pestova Bennett; St John's Smith Square

With music spanning nearly 30 years and 140 performers mixing young professionals, students, amateurs and children, this was a real celebration of Stephen Montague's maverick talent and engaging sense of music making

Southbank Sinfonia's celebratory concert, Snakebite: Stephen Montague at 80 at St John's Smith Square on Thursday 16 March 2023, brought together a remarkable number of performers, the orchestra itself, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, the Centre for Young Musicians and Lambeth Music Service, performers from Contemporary Music for All and Kentish Town Cantores, along with four conductors, Augustina Kapoti, Rob Smith, Richard Heason and Stephen Montague, as well as Xenia Pestova Bennett (toy piano).  All in all, some 140 performers, professional, students and amateur, children and adults, came together for the major work in the second half, Montague's 1995 threnody for Hiroshima, Dark Sun - August 1945, but the evening presented us with a dazzling array of styles and musical approaches. I interviewed Stephen some weeks before the concert [see my interview], and indeed my article was reproduced in the programme [PDF]

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