Friday 30 June 2023

Meet the staff! Music from Franz Doppler in a new video from the staff of Peregine's Pianos

Well, this is a lovely bit of fun that popped into my in-box. In the video, the proprietor and two staff-members at Peregine's Pianos put to good use one of their instruments and one of their rooms available for hire by playing a delightful trio by the flamboyant Austrian flute virtuoso and composer Franz Doppler (1821-1883). So here are Dawn Elizabeth Howells (Proprietor, Piano), Barbara Toth (Assistant, violin), Carina Udriste (Assistant, flute) play the Andante et Rondo. Videographer Selah Hennessy.

Peregrine's Pianos  is the exclusive dealer in London for two German piano manufacturers - August Förster and Schimmel. Their new venture, Little Peregrine, adjacent to the main showroom on Grays Inn Road, is home to preowned and hire pianos and already contains a fine selection of competitively priced instruments from various manufacturers.

Francesco Pirrone's Shadow Era

Francesco Pirrone, the Italian media composer, has featured on the blog before. He now has a new single out, Shadow Era, he describes it as it "a little different than usual because it was commissioned specifically for a fantasy video game and it's a shorter composition, also simpler and a bit more mainstream." It is the original music for the cross-platform trading card game Shadow Era, it showcases his signature orchestral sound and his style with influences from fantasy music and 90's film soundtracks. 

With seven releases under his belt, Pirrone has received tens of thousands of streams, he has over 25 thousand followers on TikTok, for his activity as an up-and-coming media composer he was awarded the Premio Troisi 2022 and the Premio Antonello da Messina 2023, and he's also a brand ambassador for Vienna Symphonic Library.

Further information from  

Francesco Pirrone on YouTube, on TikTok, and Instagram

I have rarely heard Bach's Mass in B minor performed with such consistency of style, integrity and sheer musicality: Vox Luminis at Wigmore Hall

Autograph score of the first page of the Credo of Bach's Mass in B minor
Autograph score of the first page of the Credo of Bach's Mass in B minor
Bach: Mass in B minor; Vox Luminis; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed 29June 2023

Bach's crowning achievement performed with a strength of purpose and superb style, what I came back to was the consistency of phrasing and the sense of line

Bach's Mass in B Minor began life as a Missa, consisting of just Kyrie and Gloria, a work that would be acceptable in both Roman Catholic and Lutheran liturgies, and thus ideal to be presented to Augustus III in 1733, the new Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. It worked, and Bach ultimately got a Dresden court title. The mass setting was grand and large-scale, certainly not suitable for Leipzig but Bach may have heard it in Dresden (his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach became organist at the Sophienkirche, Dresden's main Protestant church, in June 1733).

When Bach expanded the work into a full mass, his only setting of the complete Ordinary of the Mass, he can surely have had no performance in mind and the entire mass is far too long for liturgical use. This leads us to wonder what his idea of the performance was. There was the Lutheran tradition of using single voices, the cantatas work successfully this way and even the Passions do so, but the Missa was written, surely, for the forces of the Dresden Hofkapelle, which had choir and soloists. These latter included such luminaries as soprano Faustina Bordone, wife of Johann Adolph Hasse the court Kapellmeister, which leads to the unlikely but wonderful speculation of Handel's leading lady singing in the first performance of Bach's Missa!

For their performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor at Wigmore Hall on 29 June 2023, Vox Luminis, artistic director Lionel Meunier, used almost minimum forces. Ten singers and 19 instrumentalists still made a whopping 29 performers on the platform. Soloists were from the ensemble and most sang a solo at some point. The ten singers were lined up across the front of the platform throughout the performance and rather remarkably all was achieved without a conductor (Meunier sang bass including the 'Quoniam to solus sanctus' solo).

Thursday 29 June 2023

London Philharmonic Orchestra's 2023/24 season celebrates 60 years of being resident in Eastbourne

Congress Theatre, Eastbourne
Congress Theatre, Eastbourne

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) has residencies at Brighton's Dome Theatre, Saffron Hall in Essex and at Eastbourne's Congress Theatre and the 2023/24 season celebrates the orchestra's 60 years as resident orchestra in Eastbourne. The theatre is the largest on the South Coast, the present theatre was built in 1963.

The first concert in Eastbourne was on 23 September 1934, just two years after the orchestra was established, and founder Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a programme of Rossini, Handel, Beethoven, Wagner and Borodin. Since then, the Orchestra has played over 350 concerts, including during the Second World War, performing much loved repertoire with many soloists and conductors soloists and conductors.

The LPO's 2023/24 season in Eastbourne will feature Alessandro Crudele conducting Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with Chloë Hanslip, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Other performers featuring in the season include one of the inaugural LPO Fellow Conductors, Charlotte Politi, conductors Bertie Baigent, Gabriella Teychenné, Kahchun Wong, and Gemma New, LPO’s Principal Clarinet Benjamin Mellefont is the soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and other soloists include pianist Samson Tsoy, cellist Laura van der Heijden, violinists Francesca Dego and Randall Goosby.

The LPO is bringing its BrightSparks schools’ concerts to Eastbourne for the first time. These performances are an opportunity for Key Stage 2 children to experience the thrill of hearing a full orchestra, possibly for the first time. The orchestra is also launching LPO Music Makers with two Eastbourne schools, a new project for Key Stage 2 children and teachers inspired by the music and musicians of the LPO. Encouraging a lifelong love of music begins in the classroom and the aims of LPO Music Makers are to build teachers’ confidence teaching music in school, inspire school communities through close-up access to world-class musicians, enable children’s musical skills and knowledge, and support schools in embedding music into their wider culture. 

Full details of the Eastbourne season from the LPO website.

The LPO also has seasons and community activity at Brighton's Dome Theatre, and Saffron Hall.

300 children celebrate the joys of music-making at Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023

Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023 (Photo: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions)
Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023 (Photo: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions)

Last week Make Music Day was on 21 June; Make Music Day is the UK’s largest single-day music festival, encouraging musicians, producers, promoters and music lovers to collaborate and organise in-person and online performances in and for their communities. 

Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023 (Photo: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions)
Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023 (Photo: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions)

As part of the events, Primary School children from across Yorkshire were invited to take part in a special celebration of all things musical run by the Richard Shephard Music Foundation, the charity set up to remember the late composer Dr Richard Shephard. Over 300 children spent the day singing, playing instruments, and composing music in the Chapter House of York Minster and the Creative Centre at York St John University.

Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023 (Photo: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions)
Richard Shephard Music Foundation's Make Music Day 2023 (Photo: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions)

Since its creation in 2021, 5,000 children have been receiving weekly music lesson within their schools, subsidised by the Richard Shephard Music Foundation

Is a Rose

On 30 June Platoon releases an EP of Caroline Shaw’s Is a Rose, with Oliver Zeffman conducting the Philharmonia, and soloists Nicky Spence (tenor), Davoné Tines (bass-baritone) and Ella Taylor (soprano)

On 30 June Platoon releases an EP of Caroline Shaw’s orchestral song cycle Is a Rose which features text by Robert Burns, Shaw herself and British poet Jacob Polley, recorded by the Philharmonia, conductor Oliver Zeffman and soloists Nicky Spence (tenor), Davoné Tines (bass-baritone) and Ella Taylor (soprano). Also included as a bonus track is a new arrangement of Renaissance, the theme to the second season of the HBO's The White Lotus.

The EP is released to accompany Classical Pride at the Barbican on 7 July 2023, conceived and curated by conductor Oliver Zeffman, presented by broadcaster Nick Grimshaw, this will be the first time any major arts organisation or orchestra in Europe has given a classical concert for Pride. Zeffman will conduct the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, an LGTBQ+ community chorus in an imaginative programme to celebrate the profound contribution that the LGBTQ+ community makes to classical music, featuring Pavel Kolesnikov, Samson Tsoy, Nicky Spence, Davóne Tines and Ella Taylor.

Is a Rose - Link tree
Classical Pride - Barbican website

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Music of such engaging variety and imagination: Richard Boothby's 'Music to hear...' exploring Alfonso Ferrabosco's 1609 book of music for solo lyra viol

Music to hear... - Alfonso Ferrabosco: Music for the Lyra Viol; Richard Boothby, Asako Morikawa; Signum Classics
Music to hear... - Alfonso Ferrabosco: Music for the Lyra Viol; Richard Boothby, Asako Morikawa; Signum Classics

The lyra viol is a type of small bass viol that was popular in England in the 17th century and for which a specific repertoire was created. Viol player Richard Boothby has already recorded the complete lyra viol music of William Lawes and here, on a new Signum Classics disc Music to hear..., Boothby turns his attention to pieces from Alonso Ferrabosco's Lessons for 1, 2 and 3 viols. The majority of the works on the disc are for solo viol, but Boothby is joined by Asako Morikawa for some.

Despite his exotic name, Alfonso Ferrabosco (1575-1628) was English. His father, Alfonso Ferrabosco, the Elder was an Italian composer, born in Bologna, who ended up in England working for Queen Elizabeth I. Marriage to an English woman followed, but then he returned to Italy leaving his son as security with a flute player who played for the Queen. The elder Alfonso never returned to England, but his son flourished under both Queen Elizabeth and King James I. An association with the playwright Ben Johnson began in 1605 when he wrote the music for the Masque of Blackness – designed by Inigo Jones, and then for next year’s Twelfth Night celebrations, Hymenaei, which Jonson praised highly. He also composed music for Jonson's plays.

The first mention of the lyra viol is in one of Jonson's plays, from 1600, and the idea behind the instrument and repertoire was that it evoked the Ancient Greek lyre. The instrument used a whole variety of tunings, and Ferrabosco uses three different ones in his collection of pieces. Apart from a handful, all the pieces in Ferrabosco's 1609 publication are dances Almaines, Galliards, Corantos and Pavans, printed in pairs with each Almaine, Galliard or Pavan having a short Coranto following it. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Figure’s Musical Director Frederick Waxman introduces their upcoming Shakespeare/Mendelssohn production at Opera Holland Park

Frederick Waxman conducts Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park, June 2022
Frederick Waxman conducts Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park, June 2022

After the success of their “fantastically detailed” (The Guardian) production of Handel’s Serse last year, acclaimed historical performance ensemble Figure return to Opera Holland Park this week, from Thursday 29 June – Saturday 1 July with a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by Mendelssohn’s enchanting incidental music. 

In a new, highly-physical production directed by Sam Rayner (listed in The Guardian's Readers' Favourite Shows of 2022 and The New York Times' Critics' Picks of 2023), Figure is joined by a fantastic cast including RSC Associate and Harry Potter actor Ray Fearon as Oberon, comedian and star of Netflix series Shadow and Bone Anna Leong Brophy as Titania, and T. S. Eliot Prize-winning author and performer Joelle Taylor as Puck, as well as a children’s chorus from Theatre Peckham and soprano soloists Rowan Pierce and new OAE Rising Star, Madison Nonoa.

With Midsummer’s eve descending, four young lovers and a troupe of am-dram artisans venture into the woods, but little do they know of the amorous shenanigans about to ensue – or is it what they always dreamed of?

Join Figure at Opera Holland Park from Thursday 29th June – Saturday 1st July

Here, Figure’s Musical & Co-Artistic Director, Frederick Waxman introduces the production:

Carmen comes to Clapham as St Paul's Opera celebrates 10 years

St Paul's Opera - Bizet: Carmen
My local opera company, St Paul's Opera (SPO) has been celebrating its 10th anniversary. There was a gala concert in April and now the company is presenting staged performances of Bizet's Carmen from 29 June to 1 July 2023 at St Paul's Church, Rectory Grove, Clapham, SW4 0DZ. Eleanor Burke directs with designs by Raphaé Memon, and John Paul Jennings conducting. Eleanor Burke directed HGO's terrific production of Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen (see my review)

Abbie Ward is Carmen (we caught her in HGO's Dido & Aeneas last year, see my review) with Roberto Abate as Don Jose (who was in Pegasus Opera Company's double bill of Philip Hageman opera last year), Benoît Déchelotte as Escamillo (Belcore in Longhope Opera's L'elisir d'Amore last year) and Lizzie Ryder as Micaëla (whom we caught as Röschen in The Opera Maker's enterprising performance of Ethel Smyth's Der Wald, see my review), and there is a full cover cast too.

The company has also been taking Carmen into into four state primary schools in and around Clapham, giving children a taste of opera with one of the most favourite titles in the operatic repertoire. These workshops introduce the world of opera through singing and music making, story-telling and role play. They are run by members of the SPO cast, many of whom work with children’s choirs and music groups in London and across the UK. Here are just a few of the comments received during the school workshops:

“Carmen is funny, but clever”

“Do you use your head to make that voice?”

“He looked like a tomato when he sang!”


“I want to be an opera singer - how do I do that?”

There is also a children's matinee performance of Carmen on 1 July 2023. This will be a performance of favourite arias and ensembles from the opera, including the children’s chorus, which will be prepared by the pupils as part of the schools workshops. The matinee cast features a number of the cover cast inclulding Elora Ledger - Carmen, Robin Whitehouse - Don José, Manuela Baranik - Michaëla, Alexandra Dinwiddie - Mercédès, Sophie Price - Frasquita, Peder Holtermann - Le Remendado, Thomas Litchev - Le Dancaïro, Julien Debreuil - Escamillo with Fr Jonathan Boardman as Narrator.

Full details from the St Paul's Opera website.

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Le roi de Lahore: Dorset Opera Festival give Massenet's first major success its first stage outing in the UK since 1879

Design by Philippe Chaperon for Act V of Massenet's Le roi de Lahore at the Paris Opera in 1877
Design by Philippe Chaperon for Act V of Massenet's Le roi de Lahore at the Paris Opera in 1877

Massenet's Le Roi de Lahore was the third of his operas to be produced in Paris. The production, at the Palais Garnier in 1877, gave him his first major success and spawned performances across Europe. Despite being performed and recorded by Joan Sutherland (in 1977), the opera has never reached the modern-day popularity of some of Massenet's other operas and remains something of a rarity. Chelsea Opera Group performed it in 2015 [see my review], the first London performance in over a century and now the Dorset Opera Festival, artistic director Roderick Kennedy, is giving the work a rare stage outing. Ella Marchment directs and Jeremy Carnall conducts with a cast including Seljan Nasibli, Kezia Bienek and Amar Muchhala. Performances are on 26 and 27 July 2023 at Bryanston, Blandford Forum.

Dorset Opera has history with Massenet, it gave the UK stage premiere of Le Cid in 2018 (an opera known to people, if at all, from its recording) to great effect, and further back I remember seeing Massenet's Herodiade there in 2006 (with Rosalind Plowright in the cast).

It has to be admitted that the plot is a flimsy thing, which seems to be the bastard off-spring of Delibes' Lakme (1883) and Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles (1863). It is one of a group of operas that Massenet wrote using the old-fashioned five-act grand opera format, complete with ballet (where there is a duet for two saxophones). Massenet took full advantage of the resources the Paris Opera had to offer, so that the large orchestra included four horns, two trumpets, two cornet, three trombones and a cimbasso, with four percussion players and timpani. But he would quickly move away from this format, and explore all manner of operatic genres.

Massenet's Le roi de Lahore has not been staged in the UK since 1879 so this should be quite an event. The opera's orientalism remains a problem and it will be interesting to see what creative solutions Ella Marchment (always an imaginative director) comes up with along with a cast that features Azerbaijan-born soprano Seljan Nasibli, Bombay-born tenor Amar Muchhala and mezzo-soprano Kezia Bienek (British born, of Mauritian and Lithuanian heritage). Certainly don't expect anything like the image at the top of this post!

Full details from Dorset Opera Festival's website.

A refreshing sense of lightness: Chichester Cathedral Choir & the Rose Consort of Viols in sacred music by Chichester Cathedral's 17th-century organist, Thomas Weelkes

What joy so true: Anthems, Canticles and Consort music by Thomas Weelkes: Choir of Chichester Cathedral, The Rose Consort of Viols, Charles Harrison; Regent Records
What joy so true: Anthems, Canticles and Consort music by Thomas Weelkes: Choir of Chichester Cathedral, The Rose Consort of Viols, Charles Harrison; Regent Records

Recorded by the modern successors to Weelkes own choir, this disc brings a lovely freshness and naturalness to a highly imaginative survey of the composer's sacred works from large-scale anthems to intimate consort music

Thomas Weelkes moved to Chichester Cathedral in 1601 or 1602 to take up the post of organist and informator choristarum (instructor of the choristers), he was still in his mid-20s (he may have been born in 1576). Weelkes would remain at Chichester until his death in 1623, though his time there was not uncomplicated. Only one volume of his sacred music was published during his lifetime and we are dependent on manuscript sources for the majority of his sacred repertoire, with part-books surviving incomplete. 

It is rather appropriate, then, that a disc from Regent Records celebrating the 450th anniversary of Weelkes' death comes from Chichester Cathedral. Charles Harrison directs Chichester Cathedral Choir, with Timothy Ravalde (chamber organ), Thomas Howell (organ solos) and the Rose Consort of Viols. 

A rarity of piano pleasure! Jonathan Biss and Mitsuko Uchida performing Schubert’s four-hand music in London.

Mitsuke Uchida & Jonathan Biss
Mitsuko Uchida & Jonathan Biss

The outstanding American pianist Jonathan Biss is touring Europe this summer with the equally outstanding Japanese-British pianist Mitsuko Uchida stopping off in London for a couple of concerts at the Wigmore Hall on Friday 8 September and Sunday 10 September following on from appearances at San Sebastian, Salzburg, Gstaad and Dublin. They’ll be offering a special four-hands programme devoted to the works of Schubert comprising Lebensstürme: Allegro in A minor D.947, March in E flat minor D819/5, Rondo in A major D.951, Divertissement à la hongroise D.818. 

"Schubert’s four-hand music is a treasure trove and largely neglected" emphasised Biss. "These works have every quality that makes Schubert’s music so uniquely affecting - the lyricism and tenderness, the loneliness and terror. But they require two pianists with a deep attunement to one another. Therefore, when I play with Mitsuko, I feel that our ears are pointed towards the same things and that the same events in the music speak to us most deeply. She has been an essential presence in my life for 25 years - first as a mentor, then as a close friend and colleague and always a source of inspiration."

Known for his international concert activities, Biss is also known for his versatility as an artist and musician. Besides travelling round the world performing he also enjoys writing about his concert repertoire, too, and has already published four audio and e-books including UNQUIET: My Life with Beethoven.

Since 2018, Biss has been joint artistic director of the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont where he has spent 15 enjoyable summers. Founded in 1951, Marlboro’s acclaimed for developing the artistry and enriching the lives of generations of musical leaders and for initiating the explosion of interest in chamber music not just in America but abroad as well.

His close collaboration and connection with Uchida (who has been joint artistic director of Marlboro since 2013) lines up with this sentiment. Every summer musicians of all ages spend up to seven weeks at the festival with the exchange of ideas and the intensive rehearsal of a wide variety of chamber-music works and perform them in weekend concerts.

Without a shadow of doubt, Biss is a wonderful, charismatic and enterprising pianist who channels his deep musical curiosity into performances and projects in the concert hall and beyond. In addition to performing with today’s leading orchestras, he continues to expand his reputation as a teacher, musical thinker and one of the great Beethoven interpreters of our time.  

In addition, Biss is passionate about new music and has commissioned concertos from Sally Beamish, Timo Andres, Caroline Shaw, Salvatore Sciarrino and Brett Dean for his Beethoven/5 project for which he asked each composer to write in response to one of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.  

Another commissioning project will launch next year with new solo piano works from Alvin Singleton, Tyshawn Sorey and Tyson Davies. Jonathan also led a massive open online course via Coursera, reaching an international audience of over 150,000.  

During this and the next season, Biss gives solo recitals in cities including Cologne, New York, Philadelphia, Milan, Singapore, Jerusalem, San Francisco, Boston and Sydney. Recently, he performed Beethoven trios with Midori and cellist Antoine Lederlin in Cologne, Hamburg, London and Tokyo and appeared as soloist with the Atlanta Symphony and Concerto Budapest as well as with the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre de Chambre Paris and St Louis Symphony Orchestra are also in the pipeline.

Coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020, Biss concluded over a decade-long immersion in the composer’s music which included concert series, recordings, writings, lectures and commissions of Beethoven-inspired works. Through the course of his Beethoven study, Biss recorded the composer’s complete piano sonatas and offered insights to all the composer’s 32 landmark works. Orchid Classics released the nine-disc sonata cycle box set in March 2020. And in the same month, Biss performed Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas in a virtual recital for an online audience of more than 280,000 people. This was followed by a daily video series of selections from the Beethoven sonatas presented via Biss’ Facebook page over the course of several weeks.

More information can be sourced on and on his YouTube channel. See Wigmore Hall's website for details of Jonathan Biss and Mitsuko Uchida's concerts.

Monday 26 June 2023

Through the Looking Glass with the LSO, Queen Mary University of London and composer Paul Rissmann

The Alice Sound

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and Queen Mary University of London have launched The Alice Sound, a set of cross-curricular learning resources for young people, schools and teachers that based on Lewis Carroll's  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, with everything available through a dedicated website, The Alice Sound.

Inspired by Lewis Carroll's books, composer Paul Barnes wrote two musical suites which were premiered at the Barbican by the LSO in 2015 (Alice in Wonderland) and 2022 (Through the Looking Glass) as part of the LSO Family Concert Series. The success of these concerts and enthusiastic response to the material precipitated the extension of the partnership between the LSO and Queen Mary University of London to develop further interactive learning content.

The resources for The Alice Sound are the result of a collaboration between Paul Rissmann, project director Kiera Vaclavik, Professor of Children’s Literature & Childhood Culture at Queen Mary University of London, and the London Symphony Orchestra. 

Most of the downloads can be used by children with little to no adult assistance, however the creative music projects are aimed primarily at teachers. These resources will also support Key Stage 2 curriculum learning on the Victorians. 

Users can:
  • Watch full performances of concert suites by Paul Rissmann, inspired by Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  • Delve into the books with Professor Kiera Vaclavik
  • Explore the music with composer Paul Rissmann
  • Learn to sing the songs of the suite with soprano Emily Dickens
  • Sing and play along with the world-famous London Symphony Orchestra
  • Download a range of free resources to use in school or at home
  • Create own music, drama, art and writing inspired by Lewis Carroll’s magical worlds
The resources feature performances by the LSO, conducted by Lee Reynolds, with Emily Dickens (soprano), Joanna Harries (alto), Richard Pinkstone (tenor), Neil Balfour (bass)

Paul Rissmann is an award-winning composer who specialises in transforming children’s literature into symphonic scores. His creative projects have received awards from the Royal Philharmonic Society and Royal Television Society. He won a British Composer’s Award in 2012 and was nominated for an Ivor Novello Composer Award in 2020. Kiera Vaclavik is Professor of Children’s Literature & Childhood Culture at Queen Mary University of London. She is the author of Fashioning Alice: The Career of Lewis Carroll’s Icon 1860-1901 (Bloomsbury 2019) and curated The Alice Look at the V&A Museum of Childhood in 2015.

Making a big noise: through the noise announces expansion of its crowd-funded noisenights

Audience at noisenight nine (Photo: Evie Redfern)
Audience at noisenight nine (Photo: Evie Redfern)

After two years of sold-out shows, through the noise announced that they are expanding their crowdfunded classical gigs to 22 venues across the UK. By the end of the year it is expected that over 25,000 people will have been to a noisenight after growing demand from a young fanbase

This Autumn’s newly announced line-up features Fatma Said, Manchester Collective, Abel Selaocoe & The Bantu Ensemble, Alexandra Whittingham, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Thibaut Garcia, Lodestar Trio, Junyan Chen, Braimah Kanneh-Mason and Jeneba Kanneh-Mason. Among the venues hosting classical shows for the first time are Camden’s iconic KOKO, the Tyneside warehouse where Stephenson’s Rocket was built, and a wind turbine factory in Liverpool’s dockside.

This is a significant milestone for the community-led organisation, which began less than two years ago in grassroots venues around London. Building on the success of their sold-out tour last year with Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Harry Baker, through the noise are now launching regular noisenights in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton and London. Between October and December through the noise will take no less than five projects on tour around the UK.

Full details from through the noise's website

An engaging & ultimately touching evening: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the Grange Festival

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice - Caroline Blair, Heather Lowe - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice - Caroline Blair, Heather Lowe - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna version), Purcell: Dido and Aeneas; Heather Lowe, Alexandra Oomens, Caroline Blair, James Newby, Helen Charlston, director: Daniel Slater, The Sixteen, conductor: Harry Christophers; The Grange Festival
22 June 2023

Having collaborated with director Daniel Slater on The Grange Festival's production of Handel's Belshazzar in 2019 [see my review], Harry Christophers and The Sixteen returned to The Grange for Slater's intriguing double bill of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (in the original 1762 Vienna version) and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. We caught the performance on 22 June 2023. Three roles were doubled, Heather Lowe was Orfeo and Dido with Alexandra Oomens as Euridice and Belinda, Caroline Blair as Amor and the Second Woman, plus James Newby as Aeneas, Helen Charlston as the Sorceress. The Grange Festival Chorus was joined by The Sixteen, with the Orchestra of the Sixteen in the pit. Designs for both operas were by Robert Innes Hopkins with choreography by Tim Claydon, lighting by Johanna Town and video by Nina Dunn for PixelLux.

The operas provide two classic arias of lament, whilst each takes a somewhat different musical approach to the sufferings of humankind at the hands of capricious gods. Both are also short, yet difficult to programme; neither was intended as a full evening in the theatre, both being entertainments - Orfeo ed Euridice was part of a wedding celebration, whilst Dido and Aeneas was probably intended as court entertainment for King Charles II.

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas - Helen Charlston - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas - Helen Charlston - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Sunday 25 June 2023

Visually seductive and strikingly arresting: The Queen of Spades at The Grange Festival is a real study in obsession

Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades - Josephine Barstow, Eduard Martynyuk - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades - Josephine Barstow, Eduard Martynyuk
The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades; Anush Hovhannisyan, Eduard Martynyuk, Andrei Kymach, Ilya Kutyukhin, Josephine Barstow, director: Paul Curran, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conductor: Paul Daniel; The Grange Festival
Reviewed Friday 23 June 2023

A study in obsessions, a series of strong performances bring director Paul Curran's intriguing vision to life, in Gary McCann's profoundly beautiful, yet a-historical setting

The Grange Festival's final new production of the season was Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, an opera which does not get as much exposure as it deserves. Paul Curran directed, with designs by Gary McCann and lighting by Johanna Town. Paul Daniel conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with the Grange Festival Chorus and the Twyford Young Chorus. Eduard Martynyuk was Herman with Anush Hovhannisyan as Liza, plus Andrei Kymach as Tomsky, Ilya Kutyukhin as Yeletsky, Alexey Dolgov as Chekalinsky, Edwin Kaye as Surin, and Josephine Barstow as the Countess, plus Christopher Gillett, Armand Rabot, Arlene Belli, Lucy Schaufer and Isabel Maria Araujo.

Based on a Pushkin story, Modest Tchaikovsky's libretto for the opera significantly diverts from Pushkin's original. The result is a tale of obsession that is a long way from romantic drama, in a way Herman is a more extreme version of the anti-hero that Tchaikovsky created with Eugene Onegin. The original setting is the late 18th century, though productions are often moved to around the time of the work's composition (late 19th century). Curran and McCann set it in a highly attractive yet a-historical era. McCann's sets and costumes looked gorgeous, but the setting seemed to be an era which could not exist, Imperial Russia in the 1930s. The sets used the same basic architectural elements - glass and carved stone cornices - to create a series of striking settings, whilst costumes and moeurs were 1930s with nary a Soviet commissar in sight. But from the opening scene, we were seduced, and the opera successfully established its own setting.

Saturday 24 June 2023

Adding the countertenor voice to the conversation: Iestyn Morris on recording a disc of romantic Russian song

Nigel Foster and Iestyn Morris at Menuhin Hall
Nigel Foster and Iestyn Morris at Menuhin Hall

When the modern countertenor voice developed in the post-war period performers had two main areas of repertoire, early music and contemporary. Since then, countertenor repertoire has widened somewhat but it is still unusual to hear the countertenor voice in full-blown romantic repertoire.

Romances - Iestyn Morris, Nigel Foster - Quartz

For his debut recital disc, countertenor Iestyn Morris has pushed things further with Romances on the Quartz label with pianist Nigel Foster, creating a recital of romantic Russian song from Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov to Tanneev, Gretchaninov, Medtner and Prokofiev.

So how did a countertenor come to be recording a disc of late 19th and early 20th century Russian song?

Iestyn had always jokingly said to himself that one day he would do such a disc. But then along came COVID and suddenly he had time. During lockdown, a daily visit to the piano became part of his routine and he found himself looking at songs, such as those by Schubert, that he had not sung since he was at college. Suddenly he had time to practice, to do things he wanted to do. Mornings would be devoted to practice, afternoons to writing funding applications.

Revisiting the songs, Iestyn found in themes in the Russian repertoire that resonated with lockdown experiences - longing, separation from loved ones, loss, love of nature (Iestyn mentions that during lockdown, for the first time he got up to watch the sunrise). The Russian songs that he gradually assembled fell naturally into thematic groups - Life & Dreams, Love, Longing, Loss.

Thursday 22 June 2023

Brighton Festival Chorus & RPO feature works by three contemporary women composers at Cadogan Hall

Brighton Festival Chorus & RPO at Cadogan Hall

On 16 July, the Brighton Festival Chorus will be joining forces with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Morgan, at the Cadogan Hall for a concert that teams up Mozart's Requiem with three works by contemporary women composers, Libby Croad, Dobrinka Tobakova and Juliette Pochin.

Libby Croad's Suite for String Orchestra, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 for International Women's Day in 2018, was written a chamber orchestra at St. Martin in the Fields. 

Dobrinka Tabakova's Centuries of Meditations was commissioned for the Three Choirs Festival in 2012, Dobrinka says, "Seeing the newly restored windows at Hereford Cathedral was the immediate inspiration for this piece. I saw at once how I could use the light from each one to illuminate the writings of the 17th century priest and mystic, Thomas Traherne. The challenge was to put the prose into singable rhythms and shapes".

Juliette Pochin's piece, Let There Be Peace, is a collaboration with Lemn Sissay. A setting of Lemn's poem for chamber orchestra and semi-chorus, the work was commissioned for the 2020 Brighton Festival. Due to the pandemic, it featured as part of the Brighton Festival online that year. This will be its first live performance.

The concert concludes with Mozart's Requiem which was famously completed after his death by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Uniquely for this performance, the Sanctus and Benedictus, thought to be exclusively the work of Süssmayr, will be substituted for movements written by Mozart himself. The soloists in the Requiem will be Natasha Page, Joanna Harries, Thomas Elwin and Jonathan Brown.

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Birmingham bound: concerts in Symphony Hall and Town Hall as part of B:Music and Ex Cathedra's new seasons

Birmingham Town Hall
Birmingham Town Hall

B:Music, the Birmingham-based music charity, has announced its 2023/24 season at Symphony Hall and Town Hall, whilst the choir Ex Cathedra, artistic director Jeffrey Skidmore, has also announced its 2023/24 season which includes concerts at Symphony Hall and Town Hall as part of Ex Cathedra’s long-established residency, plus in venues across the Midlands and London.

B:Music's season kicks off on 6 October with Thomas Trotter celebrating 40 years as Birmingham City Organist, and the season includes Lang Lang in Bach's Goldberg Variations, one of just three UK recital venues he is playing this this Autumn. Other performers include Boris Giltburg in Rachmaninov, Rachel Podger and the Armonico Consort in Scarlatti, Paul Lewis in Schubert, Julian Bliss with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Dinis Sousa, as well as orchestras including the Symphony Orchestra of India, conductor Alpesh Chauhan (when all tickets are £10), the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra. Symphony Hall’s Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space continues to host the ECHO Rising Stars hour-long recitals on Sunday mornings.

Full details from the B:Music website.

Ex Cathedra's season begins with Rachmaninoff's Vespers, celebrating the composer's 150th anniversary.  Recent discoveries from the original 1915 poster inform the performance of this powerful work, and bells, so dear to Rachmaninoff, will sound the chants between the movements – chants drawn from the Znamenny tradition, Greece and, poignantly, from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Other events during the season include Baroque Passion with music by Purcell, Loti, Monteverdi, Carissimi, Bach and Scarlatti, Bach’s St John Passion at Symphony Hall on Good Friday, and Handel's Messiah featuring soloists from the choir.

Byrd to Bacharach and Bach celebrates Ex Cathedra’s Student Scholarship scheme, created in partnership with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, now in its 5th year. The programme contains music by Charpentier and Purcell, as well as the programme’s three eponymous Bs: Byrd, Bacharach and Bach. Performed on the eve of St Cecilia’s Day, it also includes iconic works from two of the giants of 20th century British music: Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia and Howells’ Take him earth for cherishing – dedicated to John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on St Cecilia’s Day 60 years ago.

Full details from the Ex Cathedra website.

One of the towering masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire: violinist Simon Blendis introduces Enescu's Octet

Simon Blendis
Simon Blendis
As the Guildhall School prepares for its Chamber Music Festival, Simon Blendis, professor of violin at the Guildhall School, introduces George Enescu's Octet which features in the festival.

Each year Guildhall School of Music & Drama hosts a wonderful Chamber Music Festival in which groups are formed from a mixture of postgraduate students and teaching professors, giving students the opportunity to work alongside experienced chamber musicians and showcasing some of the great talent in the school. As a Professor of Violin at Guildhall School, this year I’m particularly excited to be performing one of the towering masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire, Enescu’s magnificent Octet, together with three other string professors and four students (on Sunday 9 July 2023).

Enescu was one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th Century, and yet somehow he has never been embraced by the mainstream, his name and his music usually pushed towards the rather specialised margins. Perhaps his problem was to have excelled at too many things - as a performer he was one of the world’s leading violinists (he was Menuhin’s teacher and mentor) as well as being a useful pianist and cellist. At the same time, he was a renowned conductor, a famous teacher, and of course the greatest composer Romania has produced. 

In his early works such as this Octet (written when he was just 18), one can hear influences of the music he was surrounded by, such as Debussy, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Chausson and Franck, but his own thumbprints are already easy to hear, such as his individual approach to tonality and modality, and the integration of Romanian folk music into his language. 

Although structurally the Octet is very complex, in fact the listening experience is surprisingly straightforward, thanks largely to the huge paragraphs of almost endless melody that comprise the work. The influence of Romanian folk music is never far away, and subtly reveals itself both melodically and harmonically in various ways. Some of the themes are clearly derived from the folk tradition, in particular those in the first movement, played by the first violin alone, that sound like a folk fiddler gently improvising. Within the themes, there are frequent modal inflections, such as flattened seconds and sevenths of the scale, that give a strong folky flavour, and these modal inflections also find their way into the harmonies. In particular, Enescu enjoys blurring the distinction between major and minor, so that sometimes within the same tune we find both major and minor chords in quick succession, turning us this way and that and leaving a strangely suspended, equivocal feel to the modality that is extremely beautiful.

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Leamington Music brings the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's production of Jonathan Dove's The Enchanted Pig to Warwick

Jonathan Dove: The Enchanted Pig - Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (Photo Greg Milner)
Jonathan Dove: The Enchanted Pig - Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (Photo Greg Milner)

Jonathan Dove's operas are popular with conservatoires, so it is no surprise to find that earlier this month, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire presented a new production of Dove's The Enchanted Pig. Described as "a magical family show for children aged 8 to 80!",  Dove's musical tale, with words by Alasdair Middleton (based on Romanian and Norwegian folk tales), has delighted audiences since its premiere in 2006 and I well remember being delighted myself when I saw the work during its first run at the Young Vic.

The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's production, conducted by Anthony Kraus and directed by Stuart Barker, is travelling to Warwick where it is being performed (with 10 soloists, chorus and orchestra) at the Dream Factory (Playbox Theatre’s highly valued venue on the Stratford Road in Warwick) on Sunday 25 June, presented by the enterprising Leamington Music.

As part of Leamington Music’s Education Programme, student teams will be visited schools in Warwick and Leamington on Thursday 15 June to give participatory workshops to introduce opera to children, with children and students able to attend the performance on Sunday 25 June with tickets for just £1 (An offer is available for all Leamington Music events).  

The audience for 25 June is invited to come early with picnics from 5.30pm. This is encouraged by Playbox Theatre as there is a special area with benches outside the foyer and ideal in good weather to start the evening in style. The foyer is spacious enough to use if the weather is not so good.

Leamington Music was launched in July 2006, and aims to maintain Leamington and district as a musical centre dedicated to promoting excellent music. The 2023/24 Leamington Music Winter Season starts on Friday 6 October with the Leonkoro Quartet (winners of the 2022 London International String Quartet Competition) in the Royal Pump Rooms Leamington, and on Tuesday 10 October with Ex Cathedra performing the Rachmaninoff Vespers in St Mary’s Warwick. 

Full details from the Leamington Music website.

The first orchestral interpretation of Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s poem, Shikwa (Complaint): Manchester Camerata at the Bradford Literature Festival

On Friday 23 June, Manchester Camerata will premiere Rushil Ranjan's Shikwa - Symphonic Poem at the Bradford Literature Festival. It is the first orchestral interpretation of Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s poem, Shikwa (Complaint), the work was composed by multi-disciplinary and genre-defying Rushil Ranjan, and the premiere will feature vocalist Abi Sampa.

Written in 1909, Shikwa is an Urdu poem renowned for its powerful imagery and pathos, expressing the collective disillusion of the Muslim world with its internal conflicts at the beginning of the 20th century. Iqbal himself became known as the spiritual architect of Pakistan through his prolific poetry and philosophy that inspired resistance to the British Raj and eventually led to Pakistan’s independence in the 1940s.

Fusing classical, contemporary and Sufi influences, Rushil Ranjan has a unique style and has earned the reputation of one of the most distinctive and exciting musical voices in the UK today. As well as Manchester Camerata, his music has been performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, AR Rahman’s Firdaus Orchestra, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and other acclaimed classical artists from both the East and West.

Full details from the Bradford Literature Festival website.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

A Phoenix Rising: Wigmore Hall's Pride event with the Fourth Choir and a new disc of songs by LGBT composers

Pride news. Unusually there is a flurry of classical music activity around Pride this year. Unusual, because habitually LGBT classical musicians have tended to keep a lower profile. Tenor Brian Smith Walters has a debut recital disc out which features works by LGBT composers, many in the classical canon but others less well known. A single from the disc, by Angela Morley, is out on Friday 23 June, on which date, you can also go to see Nicholas Chalmers conducting the Fourth Choir at Wigmore Hall's Pride event! And on 7 July, there is a Classical Pride event at the Barbican with Oliver Zeffmann conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (see my article)

A Phoenix Rising: An LGBT Song Chronology - Brian Smith Walters, Adam Johnson - Navona Records
Tenor Brian Smith Walters, who recently sang the role of Siegmund in Regents Opera's production of Wagner's Die Walküre [see Florence's review for Planet Hugill], is releasing a recital album on Navona Records with pianist Adam Johnson. Titled A Phoenix Rising: An LGBT Song Chronology it features an array of songs by LGBT composers including Britten (arranging Purcell), Schubert, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Maude Valérie White,  Reynaldo Hahn, Roger Quilter, Karol Szymanowski, Charles T. Griffes, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber. and Amanda Ira Aldridge. 

British-born Amanda Ira Aldridge (1866-1958) was the daughter of African-American actor Frederick Aldridge. A singer and teacher, she also composed, often under the name Montague Ring. There are two more contemporary composers on the album, Angela Morley and ANOHNI.

Angela Morley (1924-2009) was an English composer who became familiar to BBC Radio listeners in the 1950s under the name of Wally Stott, providing incidental music for The Goon Show and Hancock's Half Hour. Morley transitioned in 1972 and thereafter lived openly as a transgender woman. Later in life, she lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, Smith Walters' home town and the two met there during the 1990s. 

The album features a song by Morley with words by her widow, Christine Parker. It is a world premiere recording. The tune itself was the theme tune to the made-for-TV movie Madame X, yet after Angela passed, Christine arranged the tune for voice and piano and penned the words. The song, Don’t Ever Try (To Make My Heart Understand), is being issued as a single on 23 June. 

Full details from the Navona Records website.

The Fourth Choir, which celebrates its 10th birthday in 2023, makes its debut at Wigmore Hall on Friday 23 June with a late-night concert featuring music written exclusively by queer composers. The concert, titled Love, Loss & the Whole Damn Thing, takes place during Pride month and is conducted by Nicholas Chalmers (BBC Singers, Nevill Holt Opera) and presented by BBC Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny. 

The evening features music by Samuel Barber, a celebration of a lifelong queer relationship by the Canadian composer, Stuart Beatch, which sets a poem written as a queer riposte to a well-known piece by Eric Whitacre. There is Jennifer Higdon’s witty Telegram which references both Elvis and Emily Dickinson, the motet Help Us O Lord by Aaron Copland and Michael Tippett’s setting of the spiritual Deep River, plus music by Benjamin Britten, Meredith Monk, Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, Peter Maxwell Davies, Kerry Andrew, William Linthicum-Blackhorse and Leonard Bernstein. 

Full details from the Wigmore Hall website.

Summer Love: Isabelle Aboulker, Max Reger and Granville Bantock at London Song Festival

The title-page of the first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, with decorations by Charles Ricketts
The title-page of the first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx
with decorations by Charles Ricketts
Nigel Foster's London Song Festival is having a Summer season, three concerts under the umbrella title of Summer Love celebrating songs by Isabelle Aboulker, Max Reger and Granville Bantock at Hinde Street Methodist Church.

Isabelle Aboulker is considered to be France’s greatest living art-song composer. Born in Paris in 1938, her father was Algerian-born film director and writer Marcel Aboulker and her maternal grandfather was the composer Henry Février. She studied composition and keyboard at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, subsequently working there too. Whether setting Jean de la Fontaine’s fables, sections of a Belle Epoque etiquette book, or evoking Brazilian dance music, her songs are never atonal, never hard on the ear or mind, and always an absolute delight. The popularity of Isabelle Aboulker's songs has exploded in France in recent years, but they are still largely unknown in this country. On Friday 11 August, soprano Julia Cogan and pianist Nigel Foster present Songs of Love and Enchantment, a programme of Aboulker's songs.

Max Reger wrote nearly 300 songs, yet they remain relatively unknown. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, tenor Marcus Swietlicki, baritone Felix Gygli and Nigel Foster present Max and Elsa, telling the story of the love between Reger and Elsa von Bagenski, through Reger’s songs and readings from his letters. His songs remain the undiscovered gems of German Romanticism, unfairly overshadowed by those of his contemporaries Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Hugo Wolf. Often incredibly atmospheric and harmonically luscious. Max and Elsa is on Saturday 12 August.

Sir Granville Bantock's song cycle The Sphinx was written in the 1940s but unperformed until now. On Friday 18 August the London Song Festival presents the premiere of Bantock's The Sphinx with baritone Arthur Bruce, bass-baritone Edward Jowle and Nigel Foster. Passionate, erotic and salacious, Bantock's The Sphinx sets Oscar Wilde's poem of the same name.

Wilde began writing The Sphinx in the 1870s and spent 20 years tinkering with it. Written from the point of view of a young man, he questions the Sphinx in lurid detail on the history of her sexual adventures, before finally renouncing her attractions and turning to his crucifix. The prime influence on the poem is the French Decadent movement, Huysmans' A rebours, Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and Maurice Rollinat's poems.

Bantock's setting is almost unique in English song, being a significant treatment of Wilde's work and preceded by few musical settings of the writer's work. The work also suggests that Bantock, at quite a late period in his career, was experimenting with tonality in way that was otherwise alien to him.

Full details from the London Song Festival website.

Support emerging young artists, whose commitment is unparalleled, literally realise their dream in front of your eyes: Longhope Opera stages Rossini's La Cenerentola

Longhope Summer Opera (Photo Tom Lovatt)
Longhope Summer Opera (Photo Tom Lovatt)

On 1 and 2 July 2023, Longhope Opera will be presenting Rossini's La cenerentola on the Longhope Estate in Newton Valence on the South Downs. Matt O'Keeffe, founder of Longhope Opera, conducts the Scherzo Ensemble and Rosie Kat directs, with a cast of young and emerging artists including Alexandra Meier in the title role, with Jorge Carlo Mariani, Jake Muffett, James Quilligan, Meilir Jones, Daniella Sicari, and Beca Davies. There is also a free performance for local children on 30 June.

Founded in 2019, Longhope Opera is made up entirely of early young, early career professionals in the opera industry - singers, orchestral musicians, creatives, crew, and management staff. They aim to provide a much less commercialised and more intimate version of the bigger opera festivals, because of their remote location and smaller capacity. 

With audiences of 350 people, guests can soak up the beautiful surroundings with ease and enjoy first-rate opera in a much more intimate setting.  The company's mission is to bring the joy and beauty of opera to audiences while creating professional opportunities for talented young professional singers, orchestral musicians, creatives, crew, and management staff in the opera industry.  

Guests are invited to take walks around the grounds, enjoy the various outdoor chamber recitals and attend a drinks reception before taking their seats for the main event. After the first act, there is a long dining interval where guests can enjoy their picnic hampers or catered dinners while overlooking the rolling hills of the South Downs as the sun sets. 

Of course, all is not sweetness and sun. 

The company epitomises the ‘squeezed middle’ in arts funding. Its mission is to bring opera to audiences in a more intimate way and at more reasonable prices than more commercialised opera festivals and to create paid professional opportunities for those trying to break into the opera industry. Due the competitive nature and financial implications of arts professions, many who spend up to nine years in training often have to take supplementary jobs which can easily mean falling out of the circuit altogether. As a medium-sized opera company, Longhope Opera finds itself in an interesting position – not big enough to boast a sizable development team or long lists of donors, yet too large to function like fringe opera groups which mount small productions without orchestras, sets or crew, and survive off of ticket revenue and small donations, whilst often not paying their musicians well enough. 

Stephanie Waldren, the company's general manager comments, "To keep companies like ours going, we need music enthusiasts to take a punt on the company they’ve not heard of before. Don’t go to the same festival again and again – shop around! You might find you prefer something more home-grown and intimate. Support emerging young artists, whose commitment is unparalleled, literally realise their dream in front of your eyes." 

Full details from Longhope Opera's website.

Captivating melodies, sparkling humour and a timeless tale of love sums up Donizetti’s comic opera, L’elisir d’amore, in repertoire at Longborough Festival Opera

Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Longborough Opera Festival in rehearsal (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Longborough Festival Opera in rehearsal (Photo: Craig Fuller)
British-Swiss director, Max Hoehn's production of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore opens at Longborough Festival Opera on 20 June. Here, he talks about his comic inspirations and the challenge of organising scenes of total chaos. 

You've set this opera in the British countryside. As a Swiss citizen, what drew you to that location?  

I’m a mishmash, really, born in London to Swiss-Hungarian parents and now living in Berlin married to a Portuguese singer. As an opera director you need to be a ‘citizen of the world’ because wherever you’re directing the local cultural context does play a role in how you can form an engaging dialogue between the opera and the audience. 

The atmosphere of the countryside, therefore, is important in the opera but Donizetti and Romani never give it a very specific location. It’s a fantasy pastoral idyll that corresponds nicely with the established, romanticised ideas we have about English rural life today.  

Class difference and money are two important elements of the plot of L'elisir. What do you find interesting about looking at this through a distinctly British (perhaps English) prism? 

We are used to a picture-perfect, nostalgic idea of the English countryside. But, of course, that’s not the whole story. I would say that this production is deliberately playing with those archetypal images and ideas that British audiences are already so familiar with but undercutting them as well with a narrative that has class difference at its heart. The result should feel very true to Donizetti and that Italian comic tradition but quite modern at the same time.  

Do you think it’s harder to direct a comedy or a tragedy? 

It depends on the score. For instance, L’elisir has a perfectly crafted score that is extremely approachable for a cast. The comic beats are all there in the music. The danger is always trying to make sure the comedy is not too broad or predictable. I have a feeling that British opera singers take to comedy and irreverence very quickly and easily because of the cultural importance of British comedy such as Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and so forth. 

What are your comedic inspirations? 

A lot come from childhood: the extensive operatic excerpts used in Bugs Bunny cartoons, the village in Postman Pat. And there’s one character in L’elisir, Belcore, who reminds me very much of Lord Flashheart in the Blackadder TV series. 

What have been your influences for L'elisir d'amore?  

I have worked on several Italian comic operas and the libretto for L’elisir by Romani shares the love of wordplay and verbal jousting that characterises the Da Ponte-Mozart collaborations and Ferretti’s brilliant version of Cinderella for Rossini.  

What makes opera funny? 

Italian comic opera is at its best when depicting scenes of total chaos through heavily organised and carefully crafted musical ensembles. These scenes manage to reach a heightened, exhilarating state that’s irresistible for an audience. 

Are there any edges of satire in your take? 

I can’t imagine comedy without some element of satire. But it’s very light and gentle in our case. Heavy-handedness is death in this kind of repertoire.  

What are you enjoying most about this process? 

I’m able to indulge in the eccentricity of some of the characters, as well as my own. 

Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Jennifer Witton, Thando Mjandana, Emyr Wyn Jones, Arthur Bruce, director: Max Hoehn, conductor: Alice Farnham - in repertoire at Longborough Festival Opera from 20 June to 1 July 2023. Tickets are available now at Longborough's website.  

Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Max Hoehn & cast members in rehearsal, Longborough Opera Festival (Photo Craig Fuller)
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Max Hoehn & cast members in rehearsal, Longborough Festival Opera(Photo Craig Fuller)

Max Hoehn began his career assisting directors such as Graham Vick, David Pountney and Johannes Erath and in 2015 won the Independent Opera Directing Fellowship. He staged the UK première of Simon Vosecek’s Biedermann and the Arsonists at Sadler’s Wells [see Robert's review] which led to his nomination for Best Young Director at the International Opera Awards. 

Recent productions include The Consul (Welsh National Opera) and La Cenerentola (Stadttheater Bremerhaven) while new productions this year include The Flying Dutchman (Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon) and Four Sisters (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). 

Future productions include Così fan tutte (Welsh National Opera) and Die Fledermaus (Theater Neubrandenburg Neustrelitz) while his opera translations include Khovanshchina for Birmingham Opera Company. Hoehn’s also the founding artistic director of Opera21, a laboratory for new work, whose current commissions are The Last Castrato for Torsten Rasch and Sonata for Broken Fingers for Joe Cutler. [see Robert's 2022 interview with Max Hoehn, talking about Opera21]

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