Saturday 29 April 2023

Stop Motion Music: Edinburgh-based composer Neil T. Smith chats about his new disc, exploring the smaller-scale works he has written from the last eight years

Neil T. Smith
Neil T. Smith

Edinburgh-based composer Neil T. Smith has an album out, Stop Motion Music on BandCamp. His debut album, it explores works that he has written in the last eight or so years. In that time, Neil has written either large-scale orchestral works or smaller chamber ones, so economic necessity has meant that this, his first solo disc, explores the smaller-scale works with performers Carla Rees (flute), Delia Stevens (vibraphone), Simon Roth (drums), Justyna Jablonska and Duncan Strachan (cellos).

Neil T. Smith - Stop Motion Music
The main work on the disc is the title track, Stop Motion Music for the intriguing combination of three flutes and vibraphone. This had its origins in a long-ago conversation with a friend who ran his own ensemble, and they talked about the idea of putting small speakers in a vibraphone. The friend totally forgot about the conversation, but with Neil, it stuck. He is also a flute player and had written a flute trio in 2012 as well as playing flute in other ensembles. This suggested to him the idea of combining the flute with the purely mechanical silvery sound of the vibraphone. It is not a narrative work, but a series of scenes.

For the recording of the new disc, he was just doing the fundraising when COVID began, so the plans involved considering what music could be recorded with a minimum number of people. This means that for Stop Motion Music, flute player Carla Rees has multi-tracked the three flute lines alongside vibraphone player Delia Stevens. Carla Rees plays a Kingma System flute, which has a full quarter-tone capability (on a regular flute quarter tones can be uneven). This capability came in very useful when multi-tracking Stop Motion Music. The work is a single piece, some 26 minutes long, but for the convenience of listening Neil has split it into four tracks.

Friday 28 April 2023

Henryk Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs at ENO in an astonishing visual treat from Isabella Bywater

Górecki:Symphony of Sorrowful Songs - Nicole Chevalier - English National Opera (Photo: Clive Barda)
Górecki:Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, third movement - Nicole Chevalier - English National Opera (Photo: Clive Barda)

Henryk Górecki: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs; Nicole Chevalier, director: Isabella Bywater, conductor: Lidiya Yankovskaya; English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Górecki's moving symphony given a treatment that is less a dramatisation and more a poetic visual meditation on the music

For its last new main stage event of the season, English National Opera (ENO) made the intriguing choice to present a staging of Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'. Symphony of Sorrowful Songs opened at the London Coliseum on 27 April 2023 in a production directed and designed by Isabella Bywater. Lidiya Yankovskaya conducted the orchestra of English National Opera with soprano Nicole Chevalier who was joined on stage by six actors - Christian Flynn, Alessandro Gruttadauria, Malik Ibheis, Owen McHugh, Ryan Munroe, Ben Owara. 

Video design was by Roberto Vitalini, lighting by Jon Driscoll with Dan O'Neil as movement director. The work was sung in the original Polish. The staging was ENO's first adhering to the Theatre Green Book, with costumes sourced from charity shops.

Górecki:Symphony of Sorrowful Songs - Nicole Chevalier - English National Opera (Photo: Clive Barda)
Górecki:Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, first movement - Nicole Chevalier - English National Opera (Photo: Clive Barda)

It wasn't an opera as such, but a music theatre piece that verged on being an installation, but Bywater and Vitalini came up with some astonishing images to accompany the music.

Hooray for summer and all that it has to offer! Tony Cooper reports on this year’s BBC Proms, the world’s largest classical-music festival

BBC Proms 2023

And summer has a lot to offer for classical-musical aficionados wherever they are with the BBC Proms running this year from Friday 14th July to the famous Last Night on Saturday 9th September. Therefore, there’s a feast of music over a wonderfully packed eight-week season offering more than 84 concerts featuring over 3000 musicians thus making the BBC Proms the largest festival of its kind in the world.

Remember, too, that the Proms reaches far beyond the Royal Albert Hall and this year for the first time the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome (often referred to locally as ‘Norfolk’s mini-Albert Hall’) is one of the chosen venues to be used outside of London. And for the first time, too, most of the concerts will be available on BBC Sounds for 12 months while BBC television and BBC iPlayer will broadcast 24 programmes including the First and Last Nights. These will also be available to watch on iPlayer for a period of 12 months.

The BBC orchestras and choirs, the ‘backbone’ of the Proms, will perform at 32 Proms including 14 premières while the BBC Singers will perform five Proms including the First and Last Nights plus a Late-Night Prom showcasing their broad range of repertoire while Sir Simon Rattle and Jon Hopkins have their own Late-Night Proms showcasing their huge range of repertoire, too.

Thursday 27 April 2023

BREMF's Autumn Festival is back, for the first time since 2019.

Secret Byrd - the Gesualdo Six (Photo Mark Allen)
Secret Byrd - the Gesualdo Six (Photo Mark Allen)

For the first time since 2019, the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) is presenting an Autumn festival, across two weekends from 13 October to 28 October 2023.

The festival opens with Secret Byrd, the Gesualdo Six and Fretwork in an immersive music drama based around Byrd's masses performed by candlelight. And continuing the theatrical theme, Whispering Dome will be a large scale multi-media event involving BREMF choirs, local schools and musicians from Morocco and West Africa, devised by Jeremy Avis

The Fieri Consort is presenting a programme based around the music of two Renaissance women, Maddalena Casulana, the first female composer to have had a whole book of her music printed and published in the history of western music, and Barbara Strozzi, who published eight volumes of her own music, and had more secular music in print than any other composer of the era. And continuing the female theme, Musica Secreta & Celestial Sirens present Mother, Sister Daughter, music and stories of women.

Other visitors include mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and lutenist Toby Carr in their Battle Cry: She Speaks programme, and La Fonte Musica from Italy in a programme entitled Musical Enigmas.

There will be a BREMF Live! Showcase featuring emerging early music ensembles as well as a BREMF  Live! Clubnight.

The festival ends with Buxtehude's Membra Jesu nostri performed by the BREMF Singers & Players and the Arculo Consort of Viols.

Full details from the BREMF website.

Leipzig 1723: we know Bach won, but the fascination of hearing the application cantatas for the Thomaskantor position from Telemann, Graupner and Bach in superb performances

Leipzig 1723: Application cantatas for the Tomaskantor position - Bach, Telemann, Graupner; Ælbgut, Capella Jenensis; Accentus
Leipzig 1723: Application cantatas for the Thomaskantor position - Bach, Telemann, Graupner; Ælbgut, Capella Jenensis; Accentus

Cantatas from the top three composers who applied for the position ultimately taken by Bach in 1723; beyond the historical fascination of the programme, this a most musical and rewarding performance.

In 1722 the composer Johann Kuhnau died, after 21 years of service as St Thomas Cantor in Leipzig. The role was a municipal one, the St Thomas Cantor was the music teacher at the most famous boarding school in Protestant Germany, as well as being required to arrange for his students to sing at the four Leipzig churches, perform his own cantatas at the two largest churches using the said students, and be director of music for Leipzig. Kuhnau had been much beloved, and the city councillors were on the lookout for a replacement, someone who could fulfil the role including writing good church music which would reflect well on the city.

The search was a protracted one. One complication was that the candidate had to be able to teach Latin, though, in fact, two of the candidates gained permission to use a substitute. First choice was Georg Philipp Telemann, but his existing employer (the city of Hamburg) increased his salary and he withdrew. Second choice was Christoph Graupner, but he was kapellmeister at the Darmstadt court and Graupner was not released by the court. Finally came Johann Sebastian Bach, who was Kapellmeister in Köthen, and as we all know, the role went to him. Each composer came to Leipzig for an audition, performing two new cantatas at a service. Only one cantata by Telemann survives.

On this fascinating and enterprising disc from Accentus, Leipzig 1723Ælbgut and Capella Jenensis perform the five surviving cantatas, Bach's Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, Graupner's Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden, Telemann's Ich muss auf den Bergen weinen und heulen, Graupner's Aus der Tiefen rufen wir and Bach's Du wahrer Gott und David's Sohn. Ælbgut is a chamber music ensemble founded by soprano Isabel Schicketanz, alto Stefan Kunath and bass Martin Schickentanz, and these three singers are joined on the disc by tenor Florian Sievers. The period instrument ensemble, Capella Jenensis features 21 players on the disc led by concert master Yves Ytier.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's 2023/24 season: from community Purcell and complete Bach to Mendelssohn and Sibelius

Clockwise from left: Masaaki Suzuki, Sir András Schiff, Peter Whelan, Louise Alder, Riccardo Minasi, Maxim Emelyanychev, Alina Ibrigamova.
Clockwise from left: Masaaki Suzuki, Sir András Schiff, Peter Whelan, Louise Alder, Riccardo Minasi, Maxim Emelyanychev, Alina Ibrigamova. 

With the various press announcements for the 2023/24 season coming out, it is noticeable that many organisations are opting for safety, and the mixture as before. So, it is heartening that some organisations are continuing to programme with imagination and daring (do check out the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's tempting 2023/24 season plans). The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has recently announced plans for its season at the Southbank Centre, and very tempting they are too.

The season opens with a concert directed by violinist Matthew Truscott that includes Haydn's first and last symphonies, along with Symphony No. 51 and the Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major, lovely to see Haydn being put squarely in the centre rather than tucked in behind someone else.

Masaaki Suzuki returns to conduct a complete performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, spread over two evenings alongside other choral works by Bach. Easter sees Bach returning, with Peter Whelan conducting the Easter Oratorio. 

Conductor James Redwood and writer Hazel Gould have been applying their imagination to the problem that is Purcell's The Fairy Queen, and have come up with The Fairy Queen: Three Wishes, a new community opera which will include students from Acland Burghley, primary schools in Camden and the orchestra’s musical communities around the country. Redwood and Gould transform Purcell’s 1692 opera into a magical adventure for the whole family. 

Acland Burghley School, the North London comprehensive, is the base for the orchestra’s offices and library, a number of in-school programmes - such as Musical Connections, supporting students with special educational needs and disability, and the Dreamchasing Young Producers funded with support from former F1 boss Ron Dennis’ foundation - as well as community performances and rehearsals. 

Riccardo Minasi conducts the orchestra in an all-Mozart programme featuring soprano Louise Alder arias from Così fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro plus two concert arias. Maxim Emelyanychev, principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducts a programme centred on Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 with music by Glinka, Rachmaninoff and Grieg. Definitely one for the diary to hear how a historically informed approach changes the sound world in Sibelius.

The season ends with Sir András Schiff joining the orchestra for another one of his marathons. This time it is Mendelssohn. At first, this does not feel like pushing the boat out, but we still take Mendelssohn for granted; when was the last time you heard all his symphonies. Schiff, directing and playing, will be giving us all four symphonies, two piano concertos and the Violin Concerto with Alina Ibragimova.

The OAE recently announced its new cohort of Rising Stars of the Enlightenment. During the 2023/24 season at the Southbank Centre, the Rising Stars will appear as soloists in the Easter Oratorio and the Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 ‘Lobgesang’. The Rising Stars for 2023 - 2025 are: Madison Nonoa (soprano), Frances Gregory (mezzo-soprano), Rebecca Leggett (mezzo-soprano), Laurence Kilsby (tenor), Malachy Frame (baritone) and Florian Störtz (bass).

The OAE’s 2023/24 activity in London doesn't stop here and plans also include OAE Tots concerts at the Southbank Centre and Acland Burghley School, another series of Bach, the Universe and Everything at Kings Place - in which Bach’s cantatas meet astronomy - and The Night Shift will return to pubs and bars around the capital.

50th anniversary: Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Maxim Emelyanychev celebrate with a diverse and imaginative season

Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Maxim Emelyanychev (Photo Christopher Bowen)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Maxim Emelyanychev (Photo Christopher Bowen)

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its 50th anniversary with its 2023/24 season led by principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, who has extended his contract through to 2028.

Emelyanychev and the orchestra launch the season with a Grand Tour of Scotland, Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 'Eroica' performed in seven different locations across the country, from Perth to Aberdeen and Craigmillar to Ayr, along with a new piece by SCO Associate Composer Jay Capperauld, The Origin of Colour, which tells a surrealist tale of the creation of colour on Earth. Emelyanychev returns to conclude the season with Mendelssohn's Elijah with Carolyn Sampson, Roderick Williams and the SCO Chorus, a performance that is also coming to the BBC Proms.

There is more Mendelssohn during the season as Emelyanychev conducts Benjamin Grosvenor in the Piano Concerto No. 1. He also conducts the orchestra's official 50th birthday concert, with Elena Langer's Suite: Figaro Gets a Divorce alongside music by Mozart and Haydn, and in March 2024 there is a celebration of The Auld Alliance with Berlioz' Rob Roy and Le mort de Cleopatre, with Karen Cargill, the premiere of James MacMillan's Composed in August, setting Robert Burns, and Maxwell Davies' Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise.

The MacMillan features the SCO Chorus, and the chorus will also be premiering Jay Capperauld’s The Night Watch, a setting of Niall Campbell’s poem, as part of their Christmas concert. The chorus will also be joining Richard Egarr and the orchestra for Bach's Mass in B Minor.

Violinist Pekka Kuusisto returns for typically eclectic programme mixing Respighi and Tarrodi with Vivaldi's The Four Season interspersed with Nordic folk tunes.  In another concert he directs music by Erkki-Sven Tüür and Rautavaara as well as the UK premieres of Helen Grime’s It Will Be Spring Soon and Anna Clyne’s violin concerto Time and Tides, which was written for him. And he is the soloist in Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto No. 1 in a programme conducted by Emelyanychev that includes music by Faure and Shostakovich.

Andrew Manze conducts a concert including Ravel's Piano Concerto with Steven Osborne and an all-RVW programme including the Concerto Grosso with young string players from the SCO Academy. Thomas Ades conducts a programme that moves from Haydn to Judith Weir, including new orchestral version of his own The Origin of the Harp. Ryan Bancroft conducts a programme that mixes Ives and Copland with the premiere of Errollyn Wallen's Dances for Orchestra.

The orchestra is introducing a series of Matinee concerts, three full-length programmes performed at 2pm, meaning audiences who prefer not to come out at night are still able to enjoy the orchestra’s work. Building on the SCO’s Reconnect programme for people with dementia, and developing the orchestra’s ongoing partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, the SCO presents three dementia-friendly concerts in the season. The performances are designed especially for people living with dementia, their friends and carers.

Children and families can experience the orchestra live in action in Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow with the world premiere of Jay Capperauld’s The Great Grumpy Gaboon, a new musical adventure written in collaboration with children’s author and illustrator Corrina Campbell and inspired by the SCO’s very own musicians. 

The SCO’s community residency in Greater Craigmillar, Edinburgh, enters the half-way point of its five-year programme later this year. Their most substantial community project to date with cross-artform workshops and performances for children, young people, families and adults to explore their musical potential and help celebrate their creativity. So far, a regular programme of seven music and cross-arts projects have been delivered each year, with 232 workshops, 375 people involved in the regular programme, and over 700 people attending SCO performances.

Full details from the SCO website.

Music for wind from the OAE's Night Shift at Brixton's The Blues Kitchen

The Blues Kitchen, Brixton - the audience for the OAE's Night Shift
The Blues Kitchen, Brixton - the audience for the OAE's Night Shift

Night Shift
 - Telemann, Beethoven, Tomasi, Kagel, Françaix; members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; The Blues Kitchen, Brixton

An evening full of colour and vivid character as four of the OAE's wind players presented an engaging exploration of wind music, mixing the serious with the witty and the downright funny

The Night Shift is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's more casual concert series, popping up in pubs and other non-traditional venues, places that you might not associate with period instruments or even classical music. The only Night Shift that I had previously attended was an event in hall two at Kings Place, so it didn't really count, which meant that when one of my neighbours mentioned picking up an OAE leaflet in the local supermarket, I was intrigued.

The OAE's Night Shift popped up in Brixton's The Blues Kitchen on Tuesday 25 April 2023, when Katherine Spencer (clarinet), Katy Bircher (flute), Leo Duarte (oboe) and Chris Rawley (bassoon) performed a programme that moved from Telemann and Beethoven to French composers Henri Tomasi (1901-1971) and Jean Françaix (1912-1997) to Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) and beyond. Not quite a programme that you might expect from the OAE and certainly not one you'd expect in a blues bar in Brixton, yet it was all presented with style, aplomb and not a little fun and theatricality.

The performance took place in the upstairs bar, think distressed wood panelling, recycled stained glass, low lighting and red glitter balls, oh and a smoke machine just before the event started. And it began not with music, but with a sound installation by Gawain Hewitt that evoked birdsong, which gradually merged into Katy Bircher's performance of Telemann's Fantasy for Flute. She was wearing a gauzy cloak, dressed in green with green lighting, all very evocative and afterwards Katherine Spencer explained that the programme was exploring the idea of colour and music. Different pieces in the first half were presented in different colour lighting, and we even got to listen to a passage from Tomasi's Trio to decide what colour it should be (a purple-ish blue!).

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Spitalfields Music's 2023 Festival

Spitalfields Music's 2023 Festival features 16 premieres alongside neglected historical repertoire performed in iconic locations in and around the East End from 30 June to 12 July 2023.

Looking at the programme for Spitalfields Music's 2023 Festival you feel that the festival is back with a bang. The programme features 16 premieres alongside neglected historical repertoire performed in iconic locations in and around the East End from 30 June to 12 July 2023. From premieres of music by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre to a programme about Henry VIII's wives mixing Libby Larsen and Julian Phillips with original Tudor music to Michael Finnissy setting Hans Christian Anderson. The festival is opened by soprano Nardus Williams, baritone Roderick Williams, pianist Allyson Devenish and poet Rommi Smith in evening of protest songs through the ages from Schubert to Britten to Kit & the Widow.

Soprano Mimi Doulton and pianist Ben Smith collaborate on a programme exploring story-telling and poetry centred on Michael Finnissy's Hans Christian Anderson settings alongside new companion work from Danish composer Rasmus Zwicki, and a further premiere from Finnissy. Composer Ian Wilson explores his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s, and the role memory and music has in making a person in a new music theatre piece, Beside the Sea

Soprano Anna Dennis, pianist John Reid, The Choir of the Chapels Royal, H M Tower of London, conductor Dr Colm Carey join forces for Try Me, Good King, a programme centred on Libby Larsen's piece based on the final letters and gallows speeches of the first five wives of Henry VIII, and this is performed alongside Julian Philips’ setting of texts by the great Tudor poet Sir Thomas Wyatt (rumoured to have had an affair with Anne Boleyn) and music from the Tudor Court. Sopranos Carolyn Sampson, Anna Dennis and Alys Roberts, with the Dunedin Consort, performed three of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s biblical cantatas

The Maxwell Quartet joins with pianist Alistair Beatson for the English premiere of Sir James MacMillan's new piano quintet, We Are Collective alongside music by Eleanor Alberga, and Cesar Franck. Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and violinist Fenella Humphreys give the London premieres of pieces written for the 2022 Cheltenham Composers Academy along with Darius Milhaud's Calme, his 1945 work for harpsichord and violin. The festival ends with Byrd at the Tower, the Odyssean Ensemble in Byrd's three masses.

Other visitors include Kabantu, who weave together folk, classical and world musics, Explore Ensemble in a collaboration with composer Klaus Lang, and musicians from the Engines Orchestra in 'an immersive mindfulness experience', 

Full details from the Spitalfields Music website.

mcr: classical - a weekend celebrating Manchester's rich musical heritage

Manchester's orchestras and ensembles are collaborating on a weekend of music at The Bridgewater Hall. Manchester Classical, on 24 and 25 June 2023, celebrates the city's rich musical heritage with a weekend of concerts, free performances, family activities and more.

Manchester's orchestras and ensembles are collaborating on a weekend of music at The Bridgewater Hall. Manchester Classical, on 24 and 25 June 2023, celebrates the city's rich musical heritage with a weekend of concerts, free performances, family activities and more. Manchester Classical will feature the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Manchester Camerata, Manchester Collective, Psappha, the Hallé choirs, students from the Royal Northern College of Music and a host of guest artists. There will be hour-long concerts throughout the weekend on the main stage with free performances in the foyers and The Barbirolli Room.

The BBC Philharmonic, conductors Anja Bihlmaier and Joshua Weilerstein, give three concerts over the weekend, performing Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Romanian Folk Dances, Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony (The Bonds of Africa), Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. The Hallé, conductors Kahchun Wong and Delyana Lazarova, give two concerts featuring Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and John Harle’s Briggflatts with saxophonist Jess Gillam.

The Manchester Collective's programme will include Steve Reich's Double Sextet, whilst the Manchester Camerata and violinist Daniel Pioro's late-night concert moves from sonic meditation for orchestra to two newly orchestrated works from Pioro’s recently released album, Saint Boy.  Contemporary music ensemble, Psappha will be giving an intimate concert in The Barbirolli Room.

Day tickets cost £15 and weekend tickets cost £25 with concessions for students. Full details from the Manchester Classical website.

From Spain in 1492 to today: The Telling tours Clare Norburn's Into the Melting Pot

Clare Norburn: Into the Melting Pot - The Telling
Clare Norburn: Into the Melting Pot - The Telling
Into the Melting Pot, Clare Norburn's latest musical drama, to be premiered by The Telling as part of a UK tour from 17 to 24 May 2023, looks back to Spain in 1492 and the expulsion of the Jews by the Catholic Monarchs, but it has an extraordinary relevance to the present day.

Into the Melting Pot follows Blanca (played by actress Suzanne Ahmet), a Jewish woman facing expulsion from Spain and setting sail for an uncertain future after the Jews expulsion from Spain in 1492. At twilight on her final night in Seville, Blanca tunes into voices of a community of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women from across the Spanish peninsula. 

As Clare Norburn points out, "Into the Melting Pot may be set in the past, but it's extraordinarily relevant to contemporary issues right now. Somehow by looking through the camera of the past, I hope we might be able to see the present more clearly. The story of a Jewish woman forced to leave her home in 1492 is startlingly contemporary; it is has echoes in issues people face right now: the rise of Anti-Semitism, how members of the Windrush generation have been treated and refugees fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan. My character Blanca cries: 'This is our home! My family, my roots in Seville go back hundreds of years. Just where do they think they are sending us back to….?'"

Into the Melting Pot opens at JW3 on 17 May and then tours to Bedford, Conwy, Richmond, Hove and Cardiff, alongside another programme, The Telling Unchained. Full details from The Telling's website.

Beethoven, Beach & Ravel: the Fidelio Trio at Conway Hall

Amy Beach
Amy Beach

Beethoven: Ghost Trio; Beach: Trio in A minor; Ravel: Trio in A minor; Fidelio Trio; Conway Hall Sunday Concerts
Reviewed 23 April 2023

Magical textures, civilised dialogue, passionate intensity & very present playing in a typically imaginative programme from the Fidelio Trio

On Sunday 23 April 2023, the Fidelio Trio (Darrah Morgan, Tim Gill, Mary Dullea) performed at Conway Hall's Sunday Concerts in a programme of Beethoven's Piano trio in D 'Ghost', Amy Beach's Trio in A Minor and Ravel's Trio in A minor

Beforehand, I gave a pre-concert talk that introduced Amy Beach and her music. She is a fascinating figure, an auto-didact who very much created her own path. Even during her lifetime, her music was regarded as old-fashioned in some circles, but perhaps we are now able to put her in perspective.

The Fidelio Trio began with Beethoven's Ghost Trio, the opening movement combining a feeling of civilised passion with a sense of impulsive movement. Both Morgan and Gill played the main theme with a lovely sense of line, and as the movement developed we felt a sense of communal passion. The slow movement began with a real feeling of being haunted, this was definitely the 'Ghost' trio. For all the movement's fragmentary nature, there was a feeling of constant tension, of anticipation, something about to happen. Performances were very present, and the result was terrific. The finale was witty yet serious, full of vitality and sprightly rhythms despite the serious tone, and an ending full of verve.

Monday 24 April 2023

Beyond the Spanish Golden Age in York and London

La Galiana & Raquel Andueza and Concerto 1700

Two glorious concerts in York and London on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 May 2023 as the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) continues to strengthen its relationship with Spanish musicians. 

La Galiana & Raquel Andueza and Concerto 1700 will be appearing at the NCEM’s  home, the medieval church of St Margaret’s, celebrating a new relationship with Instituto Cervantes and the Spanish National Centre for the Promotion of Music (CNDM, Madrid), and the INAEM (Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports) within the framework of the Europa Project. And the concerts are also being presented at the London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square

Beyond the Spanish Golden Age presents performances in York and London showcasing some of the best Spanish musicians specialising in Spanish baroque music. For the opening concert, award-winning ensemble La Galiana and soprano Raquel Andueza celebrate the Spanish Golden Age of the Baroque as seen through the eyes – and ears – of the wider European community with music by Henry du Bailly, Jean Baptiste Lully, Enrico Radesca and more. In York on 13 May and in London on 14 May

Concerto 1700's Music of the Spanish Enlightenment brings a programme of 18th century string trios by Castle, Boccherini and Brunetti – written to please both the Royal Court of Madrid but also a civil society eager to experience new science and culture; the music of a Spain connected with the most innovative musical currents of its time. In York on 14 May and in London on 13 May

Full details from the NCEM website and St John's Smith Square's website

The sheer variety of approaches and practices: Zubin Kanga's Machine Dreams plus Zöllner-Roche Duo at Rich Mix

Zubin Kanga (Photo Raphael Neal)
Zubin Kanga (Photo Raphael Neal)

Machine Dreams:
 Alex Groves, CHAINES, Robin Haigh, Ben Nobuto, Zubin Kanga, Nwando Ebizie, Julie Zhu, Joe Snape, Jasmin Kent Rodgman, Amble Skuse, Tansy Davies, Alex Paxton; Zubin Kanga, Heather Roche, Eva Zöllner, Blasio Kavuma; Rich Mix, Shoreditch
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 22 April 2023

Pianist/producer/composer Zubin Kanga presented a remarkable complete live performance of his cyborg-inspired album of new works, Machine Dreams

On a stage packed with electronics – keyboards, synthesisers, microphones and all manner of other gear – pianist/composer Zubin Kanga presented a complete live performance at Rich Mix, Shoreditch, of the ten pieces he commissioned for his recently released album, Machine Dreams (on Nonclassical). Featuring some established names alongside a range of rising stars, there was much to anticipate from the broad diversity of compositional voices he collaborated with on this project, with works by Alex GrovesCHAINESRobin HaighBen Nobuto, Nwando Ebizie, Jasmin Kent RodgmanAmble SkuseTansy DaviesAlex Paxton, and Zubin Kanga himself. The evening also featured a set from composer/DJ Blasio Kavuma and the Zöllner-Roche Duo in music by Julie Zhu and Joe Snape.

The concert opened with the beautiful, oceanic inhalations and exhalations of Single Form by Alex Groves. Based on slowly evolving crescendos and decrescendos of processed field recordings, Groves produced an atmospheric landscape of string-like sonorities, organically and sensitively controlled by Kanga through a pressure-sensitive keyboard interface, creating a sustained and hypnotic listening experience. Escape TERF Island from the multi-instrumentalist and multimedia artist CHAINES (Cee Haines) provided a dramatic contrast to this gentle opening work. Their chaotic, dramatic and angry work drew on sources as diverse as vintage video gaming, vocalised “farting sounds” and the pounding kick and snare drums of contemporary electronic dance music to create a varied and exciting piece which maintained its energy throughout and provided a real technical workout for Kanga, requiring a lot more than mere button-pressing to manipulate the complex array of samples and effects units.

Compelling thriller: Handel's Arminio from Royal Opera's Jette Parker Young Artists

Handel: Arminio - Gabriela Kupšytė, Sarah Dufresne, Michael Gibson, Josef Jeongmeen Ahn, Kamohelo Tsotetsi - Royal Opera House (Photo: ROH/Marc Brenner)

Handel: Arminio; Gabriela Kupšytė, Sarah Dufresne, Isabelle Peters, Kamilla Dunstan, Josef Jeongmeen Ahn, Michael Gibson, Kamohelo Tsotetsi, director: Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol, conductor André Callegaro, orchestra of the Early Opera Company, Royal Opera Jette Parker Artists; Linbury Theatre

Handel's late, problem opera recast as a compelling contemporary political thriller with fine performances from a balanced cast

Handel's Arminio is famously regarded as one of his more problematic operas. Premiered at Covent Garden in 1737 as part of a season that included three new operas, eight operas in all plus four oratorios. The season failed, Handel fell ill and Arminio was never revived and he would write only four more Italian operas. The problems stem from the adaptation of the original libretto (written in 1703 for Alessandro Scarlatti), of the 1300 lines of recitative in Scarlatti, Handel wrote just 300. This leaves us with a plot that is positively telegraphic and characters whose motivations are not fully explored.

Director Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol made a virtue of these limitations in her production of Handel's Arminio for the Royal Opera's Jette Parker Artists at the Linbury Theatre. We caught the performance on Saturday 22 April 2023, André  Callegaro conducted the orchestra of the Early Opera Company with Gabriela Kupšytė as Arminio, Sarah Dufresne as Tusnelda, Josef Jeongmeen Ahn as Segeste, Michael Gibson as Varo, Isabelle Peters as Sigismondo, Kamilla Dunstan as Ramise, and Kamohelo Tsotetsi as Tullio.

Handel: Arminio - Isabelle Peters, Kamilla Dunstan - Royal Opera House (Photo: ROH/Marc Brenner
Handel: Arminio - Isabelle Peters, Kamilla Dunstan - Royal Opera House (Photo: ROH/Marc Brenner)

The opera features the German chieftain, Arminio (Gabriela Kupšytė), fighting the Roman invaders led by General Varo (Michael Gibson) and his adviser, Tullio (Kamohelo Tsotetsi). Arminio and his wife, Tusnelda (Sarah Dufresne), are staunchly anti-Roman and the opera opens with them planning to flee. Tusnelda's father Segeste (Josef Jeongmeen Ahn), however, is a collaborator, which leaves his son Sigismondo (Isabelle Peters) conflicted, especially as Sigismondo is in love with Arminio's sister, Ramise (Kamilla Dunstan).

Sunday 23 April 2023

Sir Andrzej Panufnik's Composing Myself

Andrzej Panufnik: Composing Myself - Toccata Press

Sir Andrzej Panufnik famously said that he communicated in music not words, but his autobiography, Composing Myself, which was published in 1987 conveys the remarkable drama of Panufnik's life. It is now being re-issued by the ever-enterprising Toccata Press as part of a two-volume edition of Panufnik's complete writings. The new edition includes detailed annotations, an introduction from Simon Callow and a final chapter by Camilla, Lady Panufnik detailing the composer’s momentous return to Warsaw in 1990 (having defected to the West in 1954, he refused to return to his native Poland until democracy had been restored).

There was a launch for the new edition of Composing Myself at the Polish Hearth Club (Ognisko Polskie) on Friday, when there was a chance to hear Lady Panufnik and her children, Roxanna (a composer) and Jem Panufnik (graphic artist, DJ and composer of electronica), in conversation with Martin Anderson of Toccata Press as well as the chance to hear some of Andrezj Panufnik's music. 

We heard pianist Lucas Krupinski play two movements from Andrzej Panufnik's Hommage a Chopin; originally a vocalise from 1949, in 1966 Andrzej Panufnik arranged it for flute and chamber orchestra, and we heard it in an arrangement for solo piano by Andrzej Panufnik's daughter Roxanna. Then Krupinski was joined by cellist Kacper Nowak for Dreamscape, originally a vocalise for mezzo-soprano and piano from 1977.

Full details of the new edition of Sir Andrzej Panufnik's autobiography, Composing Myself from Toccata Classics.

Saturday 22 April 2023

If you have an ensemble that is diverse already, it makes it more inviting, younger singers in the audience realise it could be them: the ideas behind the founding of new vocal ensemble Vox Urbane

Vox Urbane & Dan Ludford-Thomas - launch concert
Vox Urbane & Dan Ludford-Thomas - launch concert

Vox Urbane is a new professional vocal ensemble formed by conductor Dan Ludford-Thomas and artistic director Helen Meyerhoff. The choir launched on 16 April 2023 at a concert in the distressed grandeur of the Asylum Chapel, Peckham with a programme that included a UK premiere by Tara Mack alongside music by Judd Greenstein, Philip Glass, Poulenc, Meredith Monk, Shruthi Rajasekar, Joanna Marsh, Barbara Dudek and Dan Ludford-Thomas. The 16-strong ensemble has been established by Dan and Helen in response to what they see as a startling lack of diversity in classical music, beginning with a particular focus on gender and ethnic diversity.

Both Helen and Dan came to singing through non-traditional pathways, with both having a large degree of luck in their early careers. So, they wanted to create a group which was inclusive of singers who did not just tread the standard cathedral/college route, casting the net for a wider social experience with singers from diverse cultural and artistic backgrounds without any compromise on artistic standards. Diversity for them means ethnicity and gender, but also those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and everything in between.

The concert on 16 April was by way of a launch and a fund-raiser, but there are already other plans afoot. There will be a collaboration with Stanford Chamber Chorale during the London leg of the American choir's tour in June 2023, there are plans for Vox Urbane's associated young artists' ensemble, Vox Next Gen, to work with Lewisham Choral Society whilst their outreach scheme, Vox Roots, will be working in Hackney. They are also hoping to develop more outreach for singers from state schools who cannot afford the Summer choral courses.

Vox Next Gen
Members of Vox Urbane and Vox Next Gen in the studio of artist Alf Löhr (Photo Noel Williams)

Friday 21 April 2023

The Pied Piper & The Crab: WNO Youth Opera in double bill by Jonathan Willocks & Paul Ayres

The Pied Piper of Hamelin & The Crab That Played With The Sea The Seligman Youth Opera Performance Sat 27 May 2023 – Sun 28 May 2023
The 80-strong voices of WNO Youth Opera will be back on stage at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 27 and 28 May 2023 with a double bill featuring two contemporary, story-based operas, Jonathan Willcocks' The Pied Piper of Hamelin and Paul Ayres' The Crab the Played with the Sea

The two are directed by Angharad Lee, with Dan Perkin conducting an instrumental ensemble, whilst Céleste Langrée's designs are inspired by the youth camps of Llangrannog and Glan-Llyn and the vibrancy of village playgrounds.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin is Jonathan Willcocks' musical adaptation of the familiar legend using a text by Robert Browning. The Crab that Played with the Sea is Paul Ayres' mini opera-musical for all ages based on the story by Rudyard Kipling.

Full details from the WNO website.

Les Troyens, Carmelites, Endgame and 'Orrible Opera: the 2023 season of the BBC Proms

BBC Proms - BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 2023
BBC Proms - BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 2023

So, the BBC Proms are back; the season, announced yesterday, will run from 14 July to 9 September 2023, and features 84 concerts including 72 at the Royal Albert Hall. It is a return to the full, large-scale Prom season. Sort of. There are visiting orchestras and ensembles, including the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Les Siecles and Pygmalion, but these play a rather smaller role than in pre-COVID times. 

There are positive differences too. This year, for the first time, the First Night and the Last Night are both conducted by women; Dalia Stasevska conducts the First Night and Marin Alsop returns to conduct her third Last Night. There are a total of ten women conducting this year, two making their Proms debuts, and of the 23 new works, 11 are by women and a third of the concerts include a work by a woman. Not parity, but a step forward.

The move in recent years to take the Proms back out of the Royal Albert Hall continues. There is a mini-season at Sage Gateshead, with six concerts over a weekend led by the Royal Northern Sinfonia and its chief conductor Dinis Sousa. The BBC Concert Orchestra will be celebrating its Great Yarmouth residency with a Prom in that town, at the Hippodrome, and there are concerts across the UK, at the Guildhall Londonderry, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Dewsbury Town Hall, the Hall for Cornwall in Truro, and Perth Concert Hall.

And at a time when the BBC's tone-deaf announcement about the funding cuts for its performing ensembles is still a hot topic, the BBC Orchestras and Choirs play their usual big role in the festival, performing in 32 Proms including 14 premieres, and the BBC Singers will be there, performing in five Proms including the First Night, the Last Night and in Poulenc's Figure Humaine conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Thursday 20 April 2023

The Winged Woman and The Seal Woman: The 51st Perth Festival of the Arts

The Seal Woman

The 51st Perth Festival of the Arts takes place in the Scottish city next month with ten days of celebrations from 18 to 27 May 2023, with music, arts and culture in venues across Perth.

The vocal ensemble The Marion Consort opens the festival with The Winged Woman, a programme exploring large-scale Continental music of the golden age of Polyphony found in Scottish manuscripts, alongside two new works by composers Dani Howard and Electra Perivolaris that consider new perspectives of women throughout history. 

The Celtic folk opera, The Seal Woman is being presented by the Scots Opera Project; first performed in 1924, the opera was created by Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser and Granville Bantock. It is based on the folk legend of the mythical Selkie and is inspired and created from songs of the Scottish Hebrides, from Kennedy-Fraser's collection. The title role is sung by former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist mezzo-soprano, Sioned Gwen Davies, and her lover by Ayrshire tenor, David Douglas.

The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra is joined by pianist Barry Douglas for Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2,  The Ayoub Sisters perform their brand-new album Arabesque, Scottish award-winning jazz violinist Seonaid Aitken and her quintet will present a tribute to the famous French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to mark 25 years since his death. Closing the festival with a bang, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra's Tommy Smith reunites with the Mungenkyo Taiko Drummers for a performance of The World of the Gods

Full details from the festival website.

Marking the Coronation on bandstands across England, thanks to Music for Youth

Gorleston-on-Sea Bandstand, Norfolk
Gorleston-on-Sea Bandstand, Norfolk (Photo: Visit Great Yarmouth)

Music for Youth's Coronation Bandstand Project will see thousands of young musicians perform on bandstands in public parks across England from 6 – 8 May 2023, enabling music and young people to play an important part in marking this historic occasion. ​Participation in music events like this supports young people in their development, well being and improves social skills.

Music for Youth will fund and support Music Education Hubs and Local Cultural Education Partnerships regionally to host multiple events on prominent bandstands, showcasing the brilliance of young musicians performing all styles and genres of music. Other performing arts will be on show, including dance, musical theatre and spoken word as well as a performance of a specially commissioned fanfare from a young composer.

If you would like to take part there are opportunities and bursaries available. Please visit for more information.

  • Gorleston-on-Sea Bandstand, Norfolk
  • Berry Hill Park and Bandstand, Mansfield
  • The Kirkby Plaza, Nottingham
  • Raphael's Park Bandstand, Romford 
  • Fassnidge Park Bandstand, Uxbridge
  • Richardson Dees Park, North Tyneside
  • Crawley Bandstand, Memorial Gardens
  • Brighton Bandstand
  • Rochester Castle Gardens
  • Princess Pavillion, Falmouth
  • Penzance 
  • Vivary Park Bandstand, Taunton
  • MAC Outdoor Theatre, Birmingham

Dartington's Music Summer School & Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary

Imogen Holst, a key figure in the history of Dartington's Summer School, outside the Great Hall at Dartington in 1959 with B. Edwards, John Edwards (far left) and Dorothy Elmhirst (far right). Photo credit: Catharine Scudamore, courtesy of the Dartington International Summer School Foundation.
Imogen Holst, a key figure in the history of Dartington's Summer School, outside the Great Hall at Dartington in 1959
with B. Edwards, John Edwards (far left) and Dorothy Elmhirst (far right).
Photo credit: Catharine Scudamore, courtesy of the Dartington International Summer School Foundation

Dartington's Music Summer School & Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary this year with a four-week Festival of classical, folk, gospel and jazz music from 22 July to 19 August 2023. Anniversary celebrations include a focus on composer Thea Musgrave who first visited Dartington 70 years ago and a special Music & Migration exhibition which highlights the history of émigré musicians at the Summer School, presented in partnership with the Royal College of Music. Isobel Waller-Bridge is composer in residence, whilst Jason Singh is artist in residence.

John Butt directs the Dunedin Consort in Bach's Mass in B Minor, and other Early and Baroque music highlights include viol consort Fretwork marking the 400th anniversary of composers Byrd and Weelkes, I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth, and Mediva making its Dartington debut, and baroque violinist Rachel Podger makes her long-awaited debut.  John Butt also conducts the Dartington Festival Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

There are recitals from sopranos Mary Bevan and Keri Fuge, both giving recitals with pianist Joseph Middleton, tenor James Gilchrist performing with pianist Anna Tilbrook and soprano Heloise Werner in a late-night solo concert. Chamber music includes the Magnard Ensemble, Leonore Piano Trio, Fidelio Trio and Waldstein Quartet, and violinist Thomas Gould performs music by Max Richter.

There are several participatory events, Come & Sing with Black Voices gospel ensemble, Come & Play Beethoven’s Symphony no.5 with Alice Farnham side-by-side with Dartington Festival Orchestra, and Come & Play Brass with Paul Archibald and Brett Baker.

Full details from the Dartington website.

Wednesday 19 April 2023

An American original - the fascinating Mrs Beach

Dr & Mrs H.H.A Beach
Dr & Mrs H.H.A Beach
On Sunday 23 April 2023, the Fidelio Trio - Darragh Morgan (violin), Tim Gill (cello), Mary Dullea (piano) - are performing Beethoven's Ghost Trio, Amy Beach's Trio in A minor and Ravel's Trio in A minor at Conway Hall. Before the concert I will be giving a pre-concert talk, at 5.30pm, introducing Beach and giving background to her music.

Still known mainly for her songs, Amy Beach (1867-1938) was in many ways a remarkable figure. Destined by her family to be a nicely brought up lady pianist, married at the age of 18 to a man older than her father, she studied piano with a pupil of Liszt, yet re-invented herself as a composer. 

A real auto-didact, she became the first successful American composer of large-scale art music and was one of the first American composers in the Western classical tradition to succeed without formal training in Europe, and in fact, she had little formal training in composition at all.

Find out more at my pre-concert talk, full details from the Conway Hall 

The Poet's Echo: Jocelyn Freeman & friends weave a compelling programme out Pushkin settings by Prokofiev, Shostakovich & Britten

Prokofiev: Three Romances on words by Alexander Pushkin, Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, Four Romances on Poems by Alexander Pushkin; Britten: The Poet's Echo; Gemma Summerfield, Gareth Brynmor-John, Abi Hyde-Smith, Jocelyn Freeman; Rubicon

Prokofiev: Three Romances on words by Alexander Pushkin, Shostakovich: Cello SonataFour Romances on Poems by Alexander Pushkin; Britten: The Poet's Echo; Gemma Summerfield, Gareth Brynmor-John, Abi Hyde-Smith, Jocelyn Freeman; Rubicon
Reviewed 17 April 2023

A highly intelligent and compelling programme, pulling various threads together, Pushkin himself, the ideas of censorship or exile, and the blazing friendships, to shed an interesting light on the music

The Poet's Echo, pianist Jocelyn Freeman's new disc on Rubicon with soprano Gemma Summerfield, baritone Gareth Brynmor-John and cellist Abi Hyde-Smith might be described as a voyage round Pushkin. The idea for the disc began with Shostakovich's Four Romances on Poems by Alexander Pushkin and the realisation that the work had thematic and contextual links to Shostakovich's Cello Sonata in D minor written two years before. These are balanced by Prokofiev's Three Romances on words by Alexander Pushkin. The final work on the disc links both to Pushkin and to Shostakovich, with Britten's song cycle, The Poet's Echo, setting Pushkin poems and written for Galina Vishnevskaya and her husband Mstislav Rostropovich, with the cello connection underlined creating a cello part for the cycle. Another theme throughout the disc is that of exile, something that recurs often in Pushkin's poetry.

11 international orchestras, five hall debuts: the 2023/24 Zurich International Orchestra Series at Cadogan Hall

2023/24 season of the Zurich International Orchestra Series at Cadogan Hall

The 2023/24 season of the Zurich International Orchestra Series at Cadogan Hall features eleven international orchestras with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, China Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra, Arcangelo Ensemble, Strasbourg Philharmonic and Orchestre de l’Entente Cordial making their hall debuts.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under conductor Volodymyr Sirenko is making its first UK tour in 20 years with a programme including Symphony No. 2 by Ukrainian composer Borys Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968). Alpesh Chauhan will conduct the Symphony Orchestra of India in the UK premiere of Zakir Hussain’s Triple Concerto for tabla and orchestra with the composer as soloist alongside Rakesh Chauraisa and Niladri Kumar. The China Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra, conductor Daye Lin, will be presenting excerpts from Tan Dun’s score for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with cellist Jiapeng Nie. 

A new orchestra of young British and French musicians, L'Orchestre de l’Entente Cordiale, marks the 120th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale treaty between France and the UK, with the orchestra's debut, conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig in music by Elgar, Debussy, Satie & Poulenc.

The season is brought to a close in June 2024 with another cross-channel collaboration. The Flanders Symphony Orchestra, conductor Kristiina Poska, is joined by the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus for Mozart's Requiem.

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Ryan Wigglesworth's second season and Ilan Volkov's 20th: celebrations for BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's 2023/24 season

The 2023/24 season marks Ryan Wigglesworth's second year as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and they open the season with a bang, with Wigglesworth's Piano Concerto (premiered at the 2019 BBC Proms with Wigglesworth conducting Marc-Andre Hamelin and Britten Sinfonia), with soloist Steven Osborne, plus Johanna Müller-Hermann’s Heroic Overture and Mahler's Symphony No. 4.  Wigglesworth's other programmes include Stravinsky's ballets,  Orpheus and The Fairy's Kiss, Mark-Anthony Turnage's Your Rockaby, with saxophonist Martin Robinson, and music by Unsuk Chin.

The orchestra is also celebrating 20 years of music-making with principal guest conductor, Ilan Volkov, and Volkov's programmes include Cassandra Miller’s Duet for Cello & Orchestra, a work that the orchestra premiered at the 2015 Tectonics Festival,  Howard Skempton’s Piano Concerto, with soloist Joanna MacGregor. and a new work by Michael Parsons, alongside music by Berlioz, and Stravinsky. Volkov will also return to co-curate the Tectonics Glasgow festival of new and experimental music on 4 and 5 May 2024.

David Fennessy’s Conquest of the Useless was part-premiered at the first Tectonics Festival in 2013. The epic, three-part work was inspired by German film-director Werner Herzog's diary of his struggle to make his film Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon in the 1980s. The title of Fennessy's piece is directly lifted from the title of Herzog's diary. Now in November 2023, Jack Sheen will be conducting the UK premiere of Fennessy's completed work. It is preceded by a discussion with the composer and a screening of Les Blank’s 1982 documentary, Burden of Dreams, about the shooting of Fitzcarraldo.

Other contemporary music in the season includes BBC commissions from Lisa Illean, Roxanna Panufnik, and Jörg Widmann.

South Korean violinist Bomsori Kim is the orchestra's featured artist for the season, She makes her debut in December 2023 in Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No.1 conducted by Marta Gardolińska as part of a programme celebrating Polish music. Kim returns for Sibelius' Violin Concerto.

Full details of the season from the BBC SSO website.

Jephtas Gelübde: Meyerbeer's first opera, written when he was just 21, in a modern recording that enables us to begin to appreciate what we've been missing

Meyerbeer Jephtas Gelübde; Sönke Tams Freier, Andrea Chudak, Markus Elsäßer, Laurence Kalaidjian, Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, Dario Salvi; Marco Polo

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 December 2021, reposted 18 April 2023

Meyerbeer's first opera, written when he had just turned twenty, now on Marco Polo label, in a performance that allows us to appreciate the imagination of the work

Giacomo Meyerbeer was talented young. Coming from a wealthy Berlin Jewish family, the Beers [see my review of Elaine Thornton's book, Giacomo Meyerbeer and his family: Between two worlds], he received great encouragement and support from his family. Having studied with Antonio Salieri and Carl Friedrich Zelter, at the age of 19 in 1810 he went for formal lessons with Abbé Vogler at Darmstadt, where fellow students included Carl Maria von Weber (who would become a friend and supporter), some five years older then Meyerbeer. The time with Vogler was important for Meyerbeer, not only did it provide him with strong musical grounding but on the death of his grandfather, Liebmann Meyer Wulff, Jacob Liebmann Beer started to sign himself Jacob Meyer Beer which would be later Italianised to Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Meyerbeer's opera Jephtas Gelübde was written in 1812 as a sort of graduation work following the completion of his study with Vogler. The work's premiere was the source of some friction between Vogler and Meyerbeer's parents and the result was a failure to present the first performance in Berlin where the young composer was well known. It was premiered in December 1812 at the Hofoper in Munich. There were three performances, and numbers were applauded, it was a reasonable start for a trainee composer. There would be a second German opera, Wirth und Gast premiered in Stuttgart in 1813, but Meyerbeer had bigger sights.

Whereas his friend Weber had to find paying positions once training with Vogler was over, Meyerbeer had the support and backing of his banking family and as a result could go to Italy for further training. Meyerbeer's Italian operas have all been recorded, notably by Opera Rara and Naxos, but the German operas have unaccountably escaped.  This first recording of Meyerbeer's Jephtas Gelübde was originally only available on the Naxos Music Library website (you need to be a subscriber), but has now been issued on the Marco Polo label, thus giving it sider currency. Dario Salvi conducts Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus with Sönke Tams Freier, Andrea Chudak, Markus Elsäßer, and Laurence Kalaidjian.

Before we consider the performance, it is worthwhile looking at a bit of background. In 1812 in Italy, Rossini was still busy writing one-act farse and his 1812 La pietra del paragone was his first full-length success with Tancredi coming in 1813. In Vienna, Beethoven's Fidelio had been performed in 1805 and 1806 and would not be revived again until 1814, and Meyerbeer had taken part in the premiere of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Like Meyerbeer, his friend Weber started early and by 1812 he had a number of operas under his belt including Silvana (1810) and Abu Hassan (1811), but it was only in 1821 with Der Freischütz would he achieve a reasonable success. German Romantic opera was just developing, Louis Spohr would write Faust in 1813, ETA Hoffmann's Aurora debuted in 1812 whilst his influential opera Undine would come in 1816.

So, when we listen to Jephtas Gelübde we have to beware of wanting it to be what it was not, and could never be. 

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