Monday 31 July 2023

BBC Proms joins Great Yarmouth Hippodrome’s summer season with world première of new commission from Norfolk based composer Sarah Rodgers.

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus Theatre
Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus Theatre

The BBC Proms comes to Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus Theatre on 8 September 2023 as part of the Proms at concerts across the UK. The BBC Concert Orchestra will be led by their newly appointed chief conductor Anna-Maria Helsing, and the programme will feature orchestral favourites fitting for the iconic circus venue, as well as the world première of Seascapes, a brand-new commission by Norfolk based composer Sarah Rodgers.

The Hippodrome Circus was built by the showman George Gilbert in 1903. It is one of only two purpose-built permanent circuses in England still in operation, and one of only three in the world with a circus floor that sinks into a pool.

The Proms concert is part of Create Yarmouth, an exciting three-year residency by the BBC Concert Orchestra in partnership with national producer Orchestras Live, which is involving the diverse community of Great Yarmouth in a wide range of inspirational orchestral experiences.

Sarah Rodgers has previously been commissioned for projects in association with Orchestras Live. In 2018 she composed Agnes: a pocket oratorio for voices and orchestra, performed at St Nicholas North Walsham by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as part of the Paston Footprints 6oo Festival project. Since then, other commissions have included, Labyrinths, performed in the Purcell Room, Southbank by Piano40, Sizzle! for violin, viola and piano for the Spitalfields Festival and settings of songs by John Ruskin for the Ruskin Bi-Centennial at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

As well as Seascapes, commissioned from Sarah Rodgers this year by the Proms, the programme on 8 September at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome will include the waltz from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Khachaturian’s ballet Masquerade, Stravinsky’s Circus Polka, Walton’s coronation march Crown Imperial and Vaughan Williams’s uplifting piece for solo violin and orchestra, The Lark Ascending.

Full details from the BBC Proms website

40 for 40: Music at Oxford celebrates 40 years with learning and participation campaign and exciting new season

Music at Oxford: 40 for 40
Music at Oxford presents an annual concert series in the Oxford's inspiring buildings and spaces. The forthcoming season celebrates their 40th anniversary. The first concert took place on 1 July 1983, and within a decade Music at Oxford (MaO) was the largest independent classical concert promoter in the UK.

In celebration of MaO’s 40 years of music-making, they have launched their 40 for 40 Anniversary Campaign which aims to raise £40,000 by the end of 2024, to be put towards the ongoing annual costs of the thriving Learning and Participation programme. Full details from MaO's website.

The 2023/24 season opens with soprano Nardus Williams and Europa Galante at the Sheldonian Theatre on 11 October 2023 in Nature's Voice, a programme of music by Purcell, Handel and Vivaldi inspired by the natural world. Later in the season, violinist Aoife Ní Bhriain and harpist Catrin Finch join forces for a programme inspired by their home countries of Ireland and Wales, whilst the Marian Consort present A Jacobean Christmas with music written for the Stuart court, and they will be joined by the Jericho Youth Choir and St Barnabas Choristers for three pieces as part of MaO's With One Voice Learning and Participation project, which sees schoolchildren from Jericho working with music leaders and members of the Marian Consort on different singing and composition projects throughout 2023-24. 

In February 2024, countertenor Andreas Scholl and his wife, pianist Tamar Halperin, give a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre as part of their residency as Visiting Fellows at Oriel College.

Full details from Music at Oxford's website.

Rising to the challenge: a pair of world-class tenors as Turiddu and Canio anchor fine performances of Cav and Pag at West Green

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Ronald Samm, Jenny Stafford - West Green House Opera (Photo: John Reading)
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Ronald Samm, Jenny Stafford - West Green House Opera (Photo: John Reading)

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo; Pagliacci;  Alexey Dolgov, Samantha Crawford, Sarah Pring, George von Bergen, Angharad Lyddon, Ronald Samm, Jenny Stafford, Grant Doyle, Lawrence Thackeray, Thomas Chenhall, director: John Ramster, conductor: John Andrews; West Green House Opera

Strong performances and imaginative productions lift the classic double bill on an evening dampened by the weather

Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci are not, at first sight, natural bedfellows. Both provide intense emotion and over-the-top drama in the Italian countryside. Perhaps a little too close to each other in style, in fact the differences between them are sufficient to make a satisfying and substantial double bill, something that audiences have been enjoying since the Met in New York first paired them in 1893. Other pairings have been tried, but nothing really sticks. Cav and Pag it is.

For their main opera presentation this year, West Green House's Opera Season presented Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. We caught the second performance, on Sunday 30 July 2023. The production was directed by John Ramster and designed by Bridget Kimak, with lighting by Sarah Bath and sound design by Gary Dixon. John Andrews conducted, with Alexey Dolgov as Turiddu, Samantha Crawford as Santuzza, Sarah Pring as Mamma Lucia, George von Bergen as Alfio and Angharad Lyddon as Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Ronald Samm as Canio, Jenny Stafford as Nedda, Grant Doyle as Tonio, Lawrence Thackeray as Beppe and Thomas Chenhall as Silvio in Pagliacci.

For all the double-bill's popularity, it is a significant undertaking for a small opera company, requiring two sets of principals (or a single set willing and able to undertake the double challenge). With the general dearth of good Italian dramatic voices in general, this means that casting is made even more of a challenge and it is to West Green House Opera's credit that they fielded two such strong casts, with principals well able to do just to their roles, in particular the two leading tenors, Alexey Dolgov as Turiddu and Ronald Samm as Canio, gave performances that any opera house worth its salt would have been proud of.

Sunday 30 July 2023

Prom 19: Maxim Emelyanychev & Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Mendelssohn's Elijah

Mendelssohn: Elijah - Roderick Williams, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, SCO Chorus, Maxim Emelyanychev - BBC Proms (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Mendelssohn: Elijah - Roderick Williams, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, SCO Chorus, Maxim Emelyanychev - BBC Proms (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Mendelssohn: Elijah; Carolyn Sampson, Rowan Pierce, Helen Charlston, Andrew Staples, Roderick Williams, SCO Chorus, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Maxim Emelyanychev; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Emelyanychev's historically informed approach complemented by some vivid choral singing in a performance a world away from the traditional oratorio view of Mendelssohn

Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev brought Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and SCO Chorus (chorus master Gregory Batsleer) to the Royal Albert Hall on 29 July 2023 for the BBC Proms. Roderick Williams sang Elijah with soloists Carolyn Sampson and Rowan Pierce, sopranos, Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano, and Andrew Staples, tenor.

Whilst there are no textural or editorial problems with Elijah, Mendelssohn did leave performers with questions which need answering before performing the work, notably what language to sing it in and how many soloists to use. Mendelssohn wrote the work in German, but had the English translation in parallel and worked closely with the translator to ensure that the English worked. He knew that the premiere was in English, and would have expected any performance in England to be in the language of the audience, as was this performance.

Mendelssohn: Elijah - Helen Charlston, Rowan Pierce, Carolyn Sampson, SCO Chorus - BBC Proms (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Mendelssohn: Elijah - Helen Charlston, Rowan Pierce, Carolyn Sampson, SCO Chorus - BBC Proms (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

The issue of how many soloists is more tricky. Mendelssohn would have expected a whole posse of soloists, providing the solos, duet, trio, quartets and octet, but to modern ears this leaves fine singers rather woefully underemployed. [see my article 'In search of Elijah' for more detail of the first performance] During the 20th century, the convention sprang up to perform the work with four soloists and use a semi-chorus for the ensembles. For this performance, Emelyanychev took a middle way; the first quartet and the octet were sung by semi-chorus, but the final quartet was sung by the soloists and Rowan Pierce, who sang the Youth, joined Carolyn Sampson and Helen Charlston for the Angels' trio.

There was an element of middle-way about the orchestral forces too. The horns and the brass were using period instruments, the horn players surrounded by loops of tubing. Mendelssohn uses the brass to support the chorus and in the big ensembles, this change to narrower bore historic-style instruments has an important effect, lightening and removing traditional oratorio stodge. This was still a big performance, Elijah is no chamber piece, but Emelyanychev's approach was lighter and more fleet. This was much less of a dramatic monolith than some traditional performances. This was reflected in the soloists, all of whom had lyric voices.

Saturday 29 July 2023

A little bit of theatrical magic: style, imagination and engaging performances in Dorset Opera's rare revival of Massenet's Le roi de Lahore

Massenet: Le roi de Lahore - Michael Anthony McGee, Amar Muchhala, Seljan Nasibli, Julian Close - Dorset Opera (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Massenet: Le roi de Lahore - Michael Anthony McGee, Amar Muchhala, Seljan Nasibli, Julian Close - Dorset Opera (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Massenet: Le roi de Lahore; Seljan Nasibli, Amar Muchhala, Michael Anthony McGee, Kezia Bienek, Julian Close, director: Ella Marchment, conductor: Jeremy Carnall; Dorset Opera at Bryanston School

Written for the lavish resources of the Paris Opera, Dorset Opera's production of Massenet's first opera mixes visual imagination with strong, engaging performances and a bit of magic

Despite the revival of interest in Massenet's operas, Le roi de Lahore does not seem to have been staged in the UK since 1879. It is that still relatively unfashionable thing, a French grand opera, in five acts with a colourful historical setting, doomed lovers and a ballet. It requires substantial forces to bring off. But, having successfully staged Massenet's Herodiade in 2006 and Le Cid in 2018, Dorset Opera has risen to the challenge magnificently. I caught Dorset Opera's production of Le roi de Lahore on Thursday 27 July 2023 in the Coade Hall of Bryanston School. Directed by Ella Marchment and conducted by Jeremy Carnall, with Amar Muchhala as Alim, Kezia Bienek as Kaled, Michael Anthony McGee as Scindia, Seljan Nasibli as Sita, Tim Bagley as Timour and Julian Close as Indra. Set designs were by Rufus Martin with costumes by Stewart J Charlesworth and lighting by James Smith.

The story concerns a love triangle between Alim (Amar Muchhala), King of Lahore, Scindia (Michael Anthony McGee), the King's minister, and Sita (Seljan Nasibli), who has taken vows of chastity in the temple of Indra. An interesting wrinkle in the plot is that Alim dies at the end of Act Two, but in Paradise, he successfully pleads with Indra (Julian Close) to be allowed to return. Things do not end well, and the two lovers are united in Paradise.

Massenet: Le roi de Lahore - Dorset Opera (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Massenet: Le roi de Lahore - Dorset Opera (Photo: Julian Guidera)

Thursday 27 July 2023

Prom 16: Sir Mark Elder & the Hallé in Rachmaninoff's The Bells & Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5

Rachmaninoff: The Bells - Sir Mark Elder & the Hallé - BBC Proms (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Rachmaninoff: The Bells - the Hallé - BBC Proms (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Rachmaninoff: The Bells, Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; The Hallé, the Hallé Choir, BBC Symphony Chorus, Mané Galoyan, Dmytro Popov, Andrei Kymach, Sir Mark Elder; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Rachmaninoff's complex choral masterpiece in a virtuoso performance followed by a gripping account of Shostakovich's best known and perhaps most complex symphony

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé made their visit to the BBC Proms on Wednesday 26 July 2023 when Sir Mark Elder conducted Rachmaninoff's The Bells and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Chorus and the Hallé Choir plus soloists soprano Mané Galoyan, tenor Dmytro Popov and baritone Andrei Kymach.

We began with Rachmaninoff's The Bells, his choral symphony based loosely on Edgar Allan Poe's poem, The Bells. Poe's poem was unpublished at the time of his death and it is notable for its free use of onomatopoeia. The Russian symbolist poet, Konstantin Balmont made a free translation of the Poe into Russian and it was this that Rachmaninoff set. The Bells preserves the four-part nature of Poe's poem, but Rachmaninoff uses the four sections to portray birth to death and he heightens the sense of fatalism that Balmont introduced into the words. The work was premiered in St Petersburg in 1913 but the First World War delayed publication and it was not premiered in the USA until 1920 and in the UK in 1921, conducted by Sir Henry Wood. However, it did not reach the Proms until 1973. 

43 singers, 27 orchestral musicians, 25 production team - ETO on the road and a preview of the Autumn season

Rossini: Il viaggio a Reims - end of Act II - English Touring Opera, Spring 2023 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Rossini: Il viaggio a Reims - end of Act II - English Touring Opera, Spring 2023 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

43 singers, 27 orchestral musicians, 25 production team (carpenters, electricians, stage management etc) - those are the people that English Touring Opera took on the road for its Spring season of Handel's Giuilio Cesare [see my review], Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia [see my review] and Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims [see my review], a tour which ran from the end of February to late May and involved 10 performances of the Handel and 13 performances of the relatively rare Donizetti opera. And in a year the company usually performs to 30,000 people in theatres, 10,000 children in schools and community settings in around 25 towns across England.

On Tuesday last week there was a launch event for English Touring Opera's Autumn 2023 season with a look forward to Spring 2024 for friends and supporters at the Estorick Collection. Autumn will see ETO performing Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea, directed by Robin Norton-Hale, the company's new General Director, and conducted by Yshani Perinpanayagam, and Rossini's Cinderella, directed by Jennie Ogilvie and conducted by Naomi Woo. As a little preview, soprano Nazan Fikret and mezzo-soprano Lauren Young, who sing Clorinda and Tisbe in Cinderella, sang a duet from the opera accompanied by Paul McKenzie, and also gave us the final duet from Monteverdi's opera.

Looking ahead, in Spring 2024 ETO will be performing Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Nazan Fikret (who will be singing Ann Trulove) gave an outstanding account of Ann's No word from Tom, whilst Lauren Young made a delightful Baba in As I was saying.

But Autumn 2023 isn't just about Monteverdi and Rossini, the company will also be touring Under the Litte Red Moon with music by Russell Hepplewhite and written by Tim Yealland, an opera specifically aimed at children two and under! And they are giving around 50 performances across the country. Also in the Autumn will be ETO Lyrics a new mental health workshop series for 14 to 17 year olds delivered in collaboration with the education charity The Difference, and local music hubs.

Full details from the English Touring Opera website.

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Glenarm Festival of Voice & Tosca in Belfast: a busy August & September at Northern Ireland Opera

Clockwise from top left: Anna Gregg, Petra Wells, Anna-Helena Maclachan, Cathal McCabe, Peter Rankin Piano Intern Doireann O’Carroll. Ryan Garnham and Cathal McCabe
This year's finalists - Clockwise from top left: Anna Gregg, Petra Wells,
Anna-Helena Maclachan, Cathal McCabe, Peter Rankin Piano Intern Doireann O’Carroll,
Ryan Garnham and Cathal McCabe
Northern Ireland Opera's Glenarm Festival of Voice takes place from 25 to 27 August 2023. The centrepiece of the festival is the annual voice competition, featuring young singers from across the island of Ireland. The five finalists selected for this year are Anna Gregg (soprano), Petra Wells (soprano) Anna-Helena Machlachlan (mezzo-soprano), Cathal McCabe (tenor), Ryan Garnham (baritone) and the Peter Rankin Piano Intern for 2023 is Doireann O’Carroll.

After three days of intensive coaching, the finalist take place in the competition in front of a live audience and jury panel, with the jury selecting the winners of the the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and the Song Prize and the audience voting for the winner of the Audience Prize. The event takes place at the church of the Immaculate Conception, Glenarm with the finale on 27 August 2023.

Also in the festival are three recitals with NI Opera’s festival partners, BBC Radio 3, which will be recorded live and open to audiences for the first time since 2019. This year’s recitalists are tenor Nicky Spence (8pm, 25 August), mezzo soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons (8pm, 26 August) and baritone James Atkinson (3pm, 27 August) and concerts will take place in St Patrick’s Church, Glenarm.  The 2022 winner of the Festival’s Song Prize, soprano Hannah O’Brien with pianist Tristan Russcher will be returning to the historic Londonderry Arms in Carnlough where she will perform an afternoon recital on 26 August from 3-4pm.

In September, NI Opera will be returning to the Grand Opera House, Belfast for a new production of Puccini's Tosca, directed by NI Opera's artistic director Cameron Mackenzie and conducted by Eduardo Strasser, with the Ulster Orchestra. Russian soprano Svetlana Kasyan is Tosca, with Irish baritone Brendan Collins as Scarpia and Siberian tenor (and 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World song finalist) Roman Arndt as Cavaradossi, plus Irish tenor Aaron O'Hare and Scottish baritone Niall Anderson

Full details from the NI Opera website.

Around the World in 88 Piano Keys, fundraising for Ukraine

Around the World in 88 Piano Keys, fundraising for Ukraine
Pianist Margaret Fingerhut will be returning to Middleton Hall, Hull on 10 August 2023 for Around the World in 88 Piano Keys, a concert presented by Hull Chamber Music which is fundraising for Ukraine. 

Around the World in 88 Piano Keys is a piano travelogue that takes the audience on a whistle-stop tour across the globe. It is a dazzling array of composers familiar and not-so-familiar, which Margaret personally introduces from the keyboard, including music by Liszt, Albeniz, Sergei Bortkiewicz, Bartók, Roxanna Panufnik, Artie Matthews, Peter Sculthorpe, and Manuel Ponce.

In addition to live performances, Margaret Fingerhut also collaborated on a music video project with Viktoriia Levchenko, a young Ukrainian filmmaker to raise funds to support the victims of war through the British-Ukrainian Aid. This creative venture has generated enough funds to buy two much needed ambulances for the Ukrainian services and is working towards a third, details from the JustGiving page.

Further details of the concert from Ticketsource.

Tales & Trails of Britain: Kemal Yusuf, Robert Lefever and Peter Maxwell Davies

Kemal Yusuf
Kemal Yusuf
Kemal Yusuf is a contemporary composer who enjoys exploring unusual and unexpected collaborations. On 29 July 2023 at the Cockpit Theatre, Kemal will be joined by tenor Magnus Walker and The Moonrakers (multi-instrumentalist duo Jon Bennett and Becki Luff ) for a programme which celebrates unexpected connections. Tails and Trails of Britain features music by Kemal, Robert Lefever, Peter Maxwell Davies and George Butterworth, along with folk-music from the Moonrakers.

The music's connections are all linked to problematic relationships with music college, Kemal's unusual harmonic language and broad interests were rejected by the composition faculty and he was subsequently failed, but he was supported by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies who encouraged Kemal to return and finish the course. Maxwell Davies himself had a problematic relationship at music college, his musical language too innovative for a narrow-minded composition professor, for whom anything later than Delius was suspect. 

And the programme will include the premiere of a new work by Dr Robert Lefever, a distinguished addiction specialist who was rejected while studying music at the University of Cambridge, so instead pursued a career in medicine with a speciality in addiction; only now returning to music in his 80s.

Full details from the Cockpit website.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Greater than the sum of its parts: British Youth Opera perform Vaughan Williams' The Pilgrim's Progress at the Three Choirs Festival

Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrims Progress - Emyr Lloyd Jones (Evangelist), Ross Cumming (Pilgrim) - British Youth Opera at the Three Choirs Festival (Photo James O'Driscoll)
Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress - Emyr Lloyd Jones (Evangelist), Ross Cumming (Pilgrim) - British Youth Opera at the Three Choirs Festival (Photo James O'Driscoll)

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress: British Youth Opera, Royal Philhamonic Orchestra, Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir, Charlotte Corderoy; Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral

Vaughan Williams' morality stage with young singers in Gloucester Cathedral proves to be a communal achievement underpinning a terrific account of the role of Pilgrim from Ross Cumming

Premiered in 1951, Vaughan Williams' morality The Pilgrim's Progress was some 30 years in the making, at one point the composer despairing of it ever reaching the stage. RVW regarded the 1951 production at the Royal Opera as unsatisfactory and when Cambridge University performed the work in 1954, he saw it as the real premiere. Since then the work's idiosyncracies - its avoidance of conventional operatic narrative, the large number of small roles - have restricted performances. But when handled sympathetically it can create magic.

I first saw the opera in 1992 at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and since then there have been occasional sightings - Richard Hickox' determined espousal of the work with three semi-staged productions, English National Opera's production of 2012 and the RNCM's return to the work in 2019.

Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrims Progress - Ross Cumming (Pilgrim), Armand Rabot (Apolloyon) - British Youth Opera at the Three Choirs Festival (Photo James O'Driscoll)
Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress - Ross Cumming (Pilgrim), Armand Rabot (Apolloyon) - British Youth Opera at the Three Choirs Festival (Photo James O'Driscoll)

Having performed RVW's Sir John in Love at Opera Holland Park in 2022 [see my review], for its Summer showcase performance this year, British Youth Opera joined forces with the Three Choirs Festival to perform The Pilgrim's Progress.

At Gloucester Cathedral on 24 July 2023, Charlotte Corderoy conducted, the Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and British Youth Opera in RVW's The Pilgrim's Progress with soloists Issy Bridgman, Charlotte Janes Kennedy, Angela Darlin-Barlow, Lydia Shariff, Matthew Curtis, Gabriel Seawright, Zihua Zhang, Ross Cumming, Jia Huang, Emyr Lloyd Jones and Armand Rabot. The work was directed by Will Kerley.

Eclectic mix: Gavin Higgins' The Faerie Bride is a highlight at the Three Choirs Festival alongside a new Ronald Corp piece & Vaughan Williams' Flos Campi

Gavin Higgins: The Faerie Bride - Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Roderick Williams, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Martyn Brabbins - The Three Choirs Festival (Photo: Dale Hodgetts)
Gavin Higgins: The Faerie Bride - Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Roderick Williams, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Martyn Brabbins - The Three Choirs Festival (Photo: Dale Hodgetts)

Ronald Corp: Hail and Farewell; Ralph Vaughan Williams: Flos Campi; Gavin Higgins: The Faerie Bride; Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Roderick Williams, Rebecca Jones, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Three Choirs Festival Chorus, Martyn Brabbins; Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral

A contemporary retelling of a Welsh folk tale makes a vivid and engaging climax to this concert mixing contemporary and classic repertoire

Gavin Higgins' cantata The Faerie Bride was premiered at last year's Aldeburgh Festival by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at Snape Maltings, and the same forces also performed it at St David's Hall, Cardiff, and the work received its third performance at the Three Choirs Festival on Sunday 23 July 2023 at Gloucester Cathedral. Martyn Brabbins conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons, baritone Roderick Williams and the Three Choirs Festival Chorus in the world premiere of Ronald Corp's Hail and Farewell, RVW's Flos Campi (with viola soloist Rebecca Jones) and Gavin Higgins' The Faerie Bride.

Corp's song cycle Hail and Farewell, for baritone (Roderick Williams) and string orchestra was written in memory of Catherine Pascall, a board member of the Three Choirs Festival until her recent death. Corp's choice of poetry for the cycle reflected Pascall's love of carousels, with Verlaine's Chevaux de bois and Diana Jones' Roundabout, plus Pascall's favourite poem, Shakespeare's sonnet, When in disgrace, with fortune and men's eyes, Catullus' Ave atque vale, the anonymous early English Pleasure it is and Robert Bridges' My spirit sang all day. The result was a rather diverse group of texts, lacking a particular thread, something emphasised by Corp setting the Verlaine in the original French and the Catullus in Latin.

Gavin Higgins: The Faerie Bride - Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Martyn Brabbins - The Three Choirs Festival (Photo: Dale Hodgetts)
Gavin Higgins: The Faerie Bride - Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Martyn Brabbins - The Three Choirs Festival (Photo: Dale Hodgetts)

The cycle began with Pleasure it is, Tippett-like string textures full of lively cross-rhythms against a more declamatory vocal line. This was the prevailing sound world of the cycle. In the Verlaine setting, the vocal writing was more lyrical yet it was the string writing that remained memorable. Here, and in several movements, the balance rather favoured the strings, unusually for Roderick Williams, the words were occluded. The Shakespeare and Catullus settings were the serious centre of the cycle, though the interest was more in the relationship between voice and instruments rather than the vocal line itself. Diana Jones' poem, written specially, proved engaging and the cycle ended with a setting of the Bridges poem that featured more engaging Tippett-esque string writing.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Itch rocks: science, adventure and Wagnerian parallels in the world premiere of Jonathan Dove's terrific new opera Itch at Opera Holland Park

Jonathan Dove: Itch - Adam Temple-Smith as Itch and Victoria Simmonds as Watkins - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Jonathan Dove: Itch - Adam Temple Smith as Itch and Victoria Simmonds as Watkins - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Jonathan Dove: Itch; Adam Temple Smith, Natasha Agarwal, Rebecca Bottone, Eric Greene, Robert Burt, James Laing, Victoria Simmonds, Nicholas Garrett, director: Stephen Barlow, City of London Sinfonia, conductor: Jessica Cottis; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 22 July 2023

Dove's music brought remarkable depth to what could easily have simply become a terrific romp in the premiere of his opera based on Simon Mayo's children's novels

Simon Mayo's book Itch was written, originally, for his science-loving son; two more books and a TV series later, Itch is now an opera by Jonathan Dove with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton based on Mayo's books Itch and Itch Rocks. Itch was commissioned by Opera Holland Park (with support from co-producers, the Canadian Opera Company)

Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton's Itch premiered at Opera Holland Park on 22 July 2023, directed by Stephen Barlow with Jessica Cottis conducting the City of London Sinfonia. Adam Temple Smith was Itch (full name Itchingham Lofte) with Natasha Agarwal as Jack, his sister. Rebecca Bottone was Itch's mother, Jude, and Roshanna Wing, head of Greencorps (a multinational energy company). Eric Greene was Itch's father Nicholas. Robert Burt was Bob Evert, owner of the local tin mine and Kinch, a thug. James Laing was Cake, an ageing hippy and surfer, and Berghahn, Roshanna Wing's side-kick. Victoria Simmonds and Nicholas Garrett were Watkins and Nathaniel Flowerdew, teachers at Itch's school.

Though based on a book aimed at children aged 10 to 14, Dove's opera is not a conventional children's opera, it is an adult piece about children that is family friendly. In a sense, it had parallels with Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel

Jonathan Dove: Itch - Natahsa Agarwal as Jack - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Jonathan Dove: Itch - Natahsa Agarwal as Jack - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Saturday 22 July 2023

It is not just queer or other diversity in the cast or roles; we need to have opera that demands diversity in the first place: I chat to tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas

Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Photo: Tom Gradwell Photography)
Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Photo: Tom Gradwell Photography)

Welsh tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas' new disc on Delphian, launched at Wigmore Hall during Pride Month, is called Unveiled and features music by Britten, Ruth Gipps, Michael Tippett and Elgan himself performed with pianist Iain Burnside and guitarist Craig Ogden. Elgan's aim with the disc is to focus directly on queer British culture, focusing on LGBTQ+ composers and poets.

The disc is Elgan's first as a professional singer (he recorded a solo album of Welsh songs back in 2012), and the programme arose because he was growing frustrated with a lot of the roles that were offered to him. He has enjoyed the Britten roles that he has performed, but some of the others such as Almaviva (Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia), Nemorino (in L'elisir d'Amore) and Gilbert & Sullivan roles were fine enough but he did not love the repertoire. Performing some roles came alarmingly close to singing something so that it paid the bills, and he felt that his career was meant to be more than that, there should be joy. There is, sometimes, but there is hard work too. 

Unveiled - Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Iain Burnside, Craig Ogden - Delphian

The idea behind the disc was to tell people that there is a side to him that he wants to explore on stage and has not had much chance to do so. He spoke to pianist Iain Burnside about the project, and Iain was supportive. At an ENO Harewood Artists event at Wigmore Hall, Elgan performed four of Britten's Michelangelo Sonnets in new English translations by Jeremy Sams (Britten set Michelangelo's original Italian). He had never performed the songs before and found them amazing. Elgan was very struck by Jeremy Sams' translations, and he wondered how many people, listening to the original Italian versions, knew the history and significance of the songs.

The cycle, which Britten wrote for Peter Pears in 1940, sets seven sonnets written by Michelangelo, love sonnets from a sequence Michelangelo wrote to the young Roman patrician Tommaso dei Cavalieri who was over 30 years younger than Michelangelo. The homoerotic nature of the poems themselves has caused some discomfort in the past, with Michelangelo's grand-nephew publishing them with the gender of pronouns changed, and it was not until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1893 that the original genders were restored.

Friday 21 July 2023

The Continuo Foundation has opened a new round of project grants (it's sixth) amounting to £100,000

13 Recently Formed Ensembles supported by Continuo Foundation
13 recently formed ensembles supported by the Continuo Foundation

The Continuo Foundation has opened a new round of project grants (it's sixth) amounting to £100,000. This will bring the support provided to UK period instrument ensembles since 2021 to a total of £660,000. The funds have been raised from private individuals, and trusts and foundations, wishing to support the UK’s world-renowned early music sector.

UK ensembles are invited to submit proposals for creative projects scheduled to take place between October 2023 and March 2024. Continuo’s grants offer the opportunity to undertake artistically ambitious projects that would not be feasible without this support. Continuo grants also encourage musicians to tour programmes to communities that lack access to live classical music.

The latest round of grants will once again offer a separate eligibility category for recently formed ensembles. So far, thirteen emerging groups have received grants for projects which they have used to further their careers. For example, one of Continuo’s first grant recipients, Ensemble Augelletti, who received funding to record their debut CD in 2021, were recently selected as the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Baroque Ensemble. 

Continuo’s online presence has been scaled up with the recent launch of Continuo Connect, a digital hub for the UK early music sector. Continuo Connect is an online platform connecting music lovers with musicians, to help the whole early music ecosystem to flourish. Over 100 UK ensembles have created a public profile and are now able to list their upcoming concerts in a centralised online location.

Full details of the Continuo Foundation's latest round of grants from their website.

How many operas can you name where science even gets a look in? Looking forward to Jonathan Dove's Itch premiering at Opera Holland Park

Think about it, you don't get many operas where science forms the basis for the plot. Beyond John Adams' Doctor Atomic, how many operas can you name where science even gets a look in? Which means that I am even more excited than usual about the latest Jonathan Dove premiere. His opera, Itch, has been commissioned by Opera Holland Park and premieres tomorrow (22 July 2023). Dove's opera, with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton, is based on Simon Mayo's pair of books, Itch and Itch Rocks, which were originally written as entertainment for Mayo's science-loving son. 

We are promised 'An element-hunting thriller spliced with brilliant operatic set pieces and big emotions'. Jessica Cottis conducts, Stephen Barlow directs with a cast including Adam Temple-Smith, Natasha Agarwal, Rebecca Bottone, James Laing, Victoria Simmonds, Nicholas Garrett, Eric Greene and Rob Burt.

Full details from the Opera Holland Park website.

Back into the film studio: Puccini's La Boheme at Opera Holland Park on a 1950s Italian film set

Puccini: La Bohème - Adam Gilbert and Katie Bird - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Puccini: La Bohème - Adam Gilbert and Katie Bird - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme; Katie Bird, Adam Gilbert, Elizabeth Karani, Ross Ramgobin, Barnaby Rea, Harry Thatcher, director Natascha Metherell, City of London Sinfonia, conductor George Jackson; Opera Holland Park

An overly busy production takes time to settle but provides the setting for some fine ensemble performances from this young cast

Who are Puccini's Bohemians? Every production has to answer this question, and the answer is surprisingly multi-layered. At the fundamental level, the characters are based on those in Henri Murger's stories about Bohemian life in Paris in the 1840s, yet these starving artists also reflected the artistic cult of Bohemianism, are they really starving artists or simply acting out a life? But then, some of the incidental detail in the opera reflects Puccini's life as a genuinely starving music student in Milan, yet whilst he was studying he became friendly with a group of older artists who had been members of the Italian Scapiligatura movement in the late-19th century and inspired by the French Bohemians.

I have seen productions of the opera which have reflected, at one time or another, each of these layers. For her new production of Puccini's La Boheme at Opera Holland Park, Natascha Metherell chose a different approach.

"An Italian film studio, 1950s
'La Vie Parisienne', a film set in the Latin Quarter during the Belle Epoque is shooting.
Rodolfo and Marcello, aspiring scriptwriter and scenic designer,
bemoan the cold pinch of life with no pay."

There is obviously something in the air. Having seen one classic opera, Carmen, reinvented as a 1950s film production at Oper im Steinbruch in Austria last week [see my review], and Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in Opera North's recent production inspired by Fellini and Cinecittà [see my review], here we are with La Boheme set in another 1950s film studio.

We caught the opening night, 19 July 2023, of Puccini's La Boheme at Opera Holland Park. Natascha Metherell directed, with designs by Madeleine Boyd, and lighting by Charlie Morgan-Jones. Adam Gilbert was Rodolfo, Katie Bird was Mimi, with Ross Ramgobin as Marcello, Elizabeth Karani as Musetta, Harry Thatcher as Schaunard, and Barnaby Rea as Colline, with Henry Grant Kerswell, Phillip Costovski and Alistair Sutherland.

Puccini: La Bohème - Barnaby Rea and Harry Thatcher - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Puccini: La Bohème - Barnaby Rea and Harry Thatcher - Opera Holland Park 2023 (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Thursday 20 July 2023

Forget Callas and Italian bel canto: Christophe Rousset & les Talens Lyriques reveal the distinctive drama of Spontini's La Vestale

Spontini: La vestale; Marina Rebeka, Aude Extremo, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Tassis Christoyannis, Flemish Radio Choir, Les Talens Lyriques; Palazzetto Bru Zane
Spontini: La vestale; Marina Rebeka, Aude Extremo, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Tassis Christoyannis, Flemish Radio Choir, Les Talens Lyriques; Palazzetto Bru Zane
Reviewed 19 July 2023

A revelation, a recording that returns Spontini's masterwork to its original style and reveals the innovative drama underneath the 19th and 20th century acretions

In June 2024, the Paris Opera presents a new production of Spontini's La Vestale, the first time the company has performed the opera for nearly 150 years. Despite being premiered in Paris in 1807 (in French) and enjoying over 200 performances by 1830, La Vestale is known today, if at all, largely thanks to the popularity of the Italian version during the 20th century. Adopted almost as an honorary Italian bel canto opera, Rosa Ponselle sang it in Italian at the Met in the 1920s and in Florence in the 1930s, Maria Caniglia sang it in Rome in the 1940s and most notably, the 1954 production at La Scala with Maria Callas was the first opera staging by the film director Luchino Visconti. It was only in 1993 that the original French version was performed at La Scala. [read my article In search of Spontini]

So, before we start considering the opera, perhaps we should think about a few dates. Gluck's final tragédie lyrique premiered in Paris in 1779, with Antonio Salieri being regarded as his heir and producing Gluckian tragédie lyrique in the 1780s. Cherubini's Médée premiered in Paris in 1797, but this was not strictly a tragédie lyrique, it used spoken dialogue. La Vestale comes between the Gluckian tragédie lyrique and the 19th century French grand opera of Meyerbeer.  Effectively, Spontini took the dramatic reforms introduced by Cherubini and set about adapting Gluck's classical tragédie lyrique to the contemporary taste for melodrama, for grander spectacle. Spontini's Fernand Cortez (1809) would effectively invent the French grand opera genre avant la lettre (Auber's La muette de Portici is regarded as the first French grand opera, in 1828). 

Rossini's first major serious opera, Tancredi, billed as a melodramma eroico, came in 1813 by which time La Vestale had already been performed in Italy and in Vienna. As the 19th century developed, French opera left its early roots behind. Massenet took grand opera in an entirely different direction, and as Meyerbeer's popularity waned, Wagner's waxed in Paris. The continued toe-hold that bel canto had in Italy, even during the Verismo era, ensured that La Vestale remained on the fringes of repertoire, but performed in a style that was a long way from Spontini's intentionally Gluck-inspired passionate classicism.

The other composer we need to think about is Beethoven, there are clear lines between Beethoven's Leonora/Fidelio with its plot and libretto inspired by French opera (including Cherubini) and Spontini's La Vestale. Beethoven's Leonora premiered in 1805 with the revised version in 1806 (and the radical re-write as Fidelio in 1814). Certainly, Beethoven knew La Vestale and considered it a masterpiece, what about Spontini and Leonora/Fidelio? And as if to confuse things even further, in 1803 Beethoven (before Leonora/Fidelio) began an operatic project with Emanuel Schikaneder entitled Vestas Feuer about someone who pretends to be a Vestal Virgin and again the sacred flame is extinguished. It is probably only coincidence, reflecting a general fascination, but it remains a curious hint.

On this new disc from Palazzetto Bru Zane, Christophe Rousset conducts Les Talens Lyriques and the Flemish Radio Choir with Marina Rebeka as Julia, Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Licinius, Tassis Christoyannis as Cinna, Aude Extremo as la grande Vestale, with Nicolas Courjal and David Witczak.

La Conversation Enchantée et Galante - Susie Vaughan's new piece for Baroque Ensemble performed by Florilegium

La Conversation Enchantée et Galante by Susie Vaughan is one of three winning pieces from the Ruzickova Composition Competition 2022. Vaughan's piece was inspired by the brief  to 'explore Telemann’s Paris Quartets and celebrate the art of conversation between instruments.'. Vaughan explains that she 'started with the ensemble quaver motif from Modéré in the 6th Quatuor TWV 43:e4 – my favourite movement – and transformed this into a semi-quaver motif heard at the beginning of the piece and later as an accompanying background ‘buzz’ in the instrumental conversation.'

Here Vaughan's piece is presented in a video by Simon Helbling, recorded by Ada Witczyk, Baroque violin, and members of Florilegium - Baroque flute: Ashley Solomon, Viola da gamba: Reiko Ichise, Harpsichord (audio): Steven Devine, Harpsichord (on screen): Dominika Maszczynskaaa.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

50, 60, 70: Reasons to celebrate with the Tallis Scholars

Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and as part of the celebrations Peter Phillips and the vocal ensemble will be giving a concert at Middle Temple Hall on 3 November 2023, 50 years to the day from the first ever concert that Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars gave at the Church of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford in 1973. In the 50 years since that first concert, Phillips has presided over 2500 concerts with them.

For the celebrations, Phillips and the vocal ensemble will be giving a 50th anniversary tour performing over 90 dates at sacred and secular venues across Europe, the United States and the Far East over the 2022/23 season. 

Before then on 6 October 2023, they release John Sheppard's Missa Cantate on the Gimell label, the group's second album of music by Sheppard and its 60th original recording for the label. Also in October, the group's founder, Peter Phillips celebrates his own 70th birthday!

Full details from the Tallis Scholars' website.

Green Room festival in the UK's largest Medieval tithe barn

The Tithe Barn, Lenham, venue for the Green Room Festival
The Tithe Barn, Lenham, venue for the Green Room Festival

A new festival, Green Room, is launching in September bringing artists to UK’s largest Medieval Tithe Barn, in the picturesque village of Lenham, Kent. Artistic director Alexandra Callanan has planned a launch weekend of concerts from 1 to 3 September 2023 with the idea of bringing world-class artists into intimate and beautiful performance spaces. Audiences will be limited and seated in the round, and there will be wine from the neighbouring Balfour Vineyard.

The weekend will feature a mixture of jazz, classical and family events with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, jazz vocalist Clare Teal and her band, a family concert from Bach to Baby, and oboist Nicholas Daniels, violinist Fenella Humphreys and members of the London Mozart Players, conductor Jack Gonzalez-Harding in Bach, Albinoni and Mozart.

Full details from Green Room Concerts

Tony Cooper relishes Sofia Opera's brand-new Ring which has been an all-round exercise in good artistic management coupled with cooperative staff teamwork.

Wagner: Die Walküre - Sofia Summer Wagner Festival - Sofia Opera
Wagner: Die Walküre - Sofia Summer Wagner Festival - Sofia Opera

Wagner: The Ring of the Nibelungen; director: Professor Plamen Kartaloff, Orchestra of Sofia Opera, conductor: Constantin Trinks; Sofia Opera, Bulgaria.
Reviewed by Tony Cooper, 14 July 2023

I think Kartaloff's Ring would give as much pleasure to traditional Wagnerites as to those on the opposite benches! 

As part of this year's Sofia Summer Wagner Festival, under the artistic directorship of Professor Plamen Kartaloff, Generaldirektor of Sofia Opera and Ballet, a brand-new Ring cycle took pride of place sitting comfortably alongside past productions of Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal while Der fliegende Holländer received an open-air performance on the Pancharevo Lake, an artificial lake about seven miles from Sofia, locally dubbed ‘Bulgaria's Bregenz'. Wagner's Ring Cycle was performed at Sofia Opera (8, 9, 11 and 13 July 2023) in a production by Plamen Kartaloff, conducted by Constantin Trinks.

The first fully staged Ring in Sofia directed by Plamen Kartaloff fell in 2010 and since that ground-breaking year he has been heavily engaged with Wagner producing seven of his works in the Bulgarian capital which be boldly defines as the 'Bayreuth of the Balkans'.  

To all intents and purposes, Kartaloff's productions remain as close as possible to the composer's strict instructions within the framework of 'Gesamtkunstwerk' ('total work of art') in which artwork, design and the creative process combine to create a single cohesive whole. Therefore, Wagner's ability to unite music and drama lies at the very heart and thinking of Kartaloff and his realization of the Ring, I feel, truly reflects the composer's edict. 

Tuesday 18 July 2023

The Music Room at Champs Hill to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2024

The Music Room at Champs Hill (Photo: Philip Hollis)
The Music Room at Champs Hill (Photo: Philip Hollis)

When he retired from a 40 year career in farming, David Bowerman and his wife Mary decided to create a state-of-the-art concert hall at home in West Sussex. The result was the Music Room at Champs Hill which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2024. That is 25 years bringing the highest-quality music-making to the area, giving a platform to emerging artists, and promoting lesser-known repertoire by giving concerts in the Music Room, using it as a recording studio and issuing records under their own Champs Hill label. 

As part of the 25th-anniversary celebrations, The Music Room will host an array of performances by world-class musicians. The schedule includes specially curated concerts from Roderick Williams, the Belcea Quartet and Quator Ebene, in the same concert performing Mendelssohn’s Octet.

Over the last 25 years, The Music Room has hosted a rich tapestry of performances and recordings, by such acclaimed artists as Simon Keenlyside, Nikolai Demidenko, James Gilchrist, Steven Isserlis, Dame Felicity Lott & Graham Johnson, Chloe Hanslip, Jack Liebeck, Julian Lloyd-Webber, Viktoria Mullova, Richard Rodney-Bennett, Amanda Roocroft, Nicky Spence, and Roderick Williams. Speaking about The Music Room, Williams comments: "It's a beautiful place to be. You look out of the windows in between pieces, and you see the Downs stretching out in front of you. They have the most gorgeous garden, and an amazing rockery. As you look around, you find sculptures sprinkled here and there. It's a remarkable place to be and to record."

Further information from the Champs Hill website.

Autumn season: Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square

Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square
Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square

Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square have announced a varied Autumn Season. Southbank Sinfonia will be exploring French music with Poulenc, Ravel, and Farrenc, going through Alice's looking glass with Joby Talbot, Missy Mazzoli, Caroline Shaw, and Haydn, exploring Mozart's re-imagined with Jonathan Dove and Jonathan Harvey, as well as exploring the night sky with conductor Olivia Clarke and presenting Raymond Briggs' The Snowman with Howard Blake's enchanting score and The Bear and the Piano with music by Daniel Whibley. And still with families, the Southbank Sinfonia continues its Musical Zoo sessions

Elsewhere during the season, Bampton Classical Opera present Salieri's At the Venice Fair, Baroque Encounter present Handel's Tolomeo, and London Opera Company present Wagner's The Valkyrie. The Kensington Symphony Orchestra perform Elena Kats-Chernin, John McCabe and RVW, Aram Khachaturian's 120th anniversary is celebrated, London Mozart Players and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason perform Beethoven and Mendelssohn.

Lunchtime concerts feature a range of chamber music and soloists including Halcyon Quartet, the Kleio Quartet, winners at the Carl Nielsen International Chamber Music Competition 2023, Azul Piano Trio, trumpet trio Natrio and organists Roger Sayer, Polina Sosnina, and Charles Andrews.

And, of course, the Christmas Festival returns in December with a host of guests including Tallis Scholars celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Full details from the SJSS website.

Overwhelmingly intense electronic sound worlds from marginalised voices: Nonclassical's Disruptive Frequencies at Kings Place

Aniruddha Das aka Dhangsha
Aniruddha Das aka Dhangsha

Disruptive Frequencies: Gary Stewart, Amit Dinesh Patel, Nikki Sheth, Poulomi Desai, Nicole Raymond, Aniruddha Das - Nonclassical at Kings Place
16 July 2023, reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders

A fruit of Amit Dinesh Patel's research into cultural diversity in experimental sound, Disruptive Frequences featured six performers in almost complete darkness, giving a theatrical and almost religious aspect to the whole evening

Disruptive Frequencies is one of the results of Amit Dinesh Patel's research into cultural diversity in experimental sound – a project with the aim of addressing the the distinct lack of visibility of Black and Brown artists within the field. The record label, music promoter, events producer and charity Nonclassical worked together with the SOUND/IMAGE Research Centre (based at the University of Greenwich) to create this album, parts of which were presented live at this record launch / concert in Islington's Kings Place. In almost complete darkness, the stage was set with multiple altars of sound equipment, giving a theatrical and almost religious aspect to the whole evening.

Opening proceedings with his work Dark Energy Live Stream Track 2, Gary Stewart spun a compelling and complex web of manipulated white and filtered noise, delivered at crushing volume and building into a driven, lopsided pulsation, which successfully maintained an aloof poise of non-expressive abstraction over an extended span, with gargling, rumbling subterranean oscillations held in check and only infrequently allowed to emerge from a tightly controlled cage. The darkened, expectant silence which followed was galvanised by the overwhelming noise-scape of Patel's extended sonic essay Chakria. Defying all attempts at a conventional formal approach, this was a piece which embraced a sense of timelessness. Lacking the convention of any regular pulsation to divide the passage of time from moment to moment, the unearthly timbres seemed to exist in an unlimited aural void, defined without recourse to human expectations, exploring an alien landscape of crackling static electromagnetic fields, cycling machinery and broken transmissions.

In complete contrast, the two pieces presented by Nikki Sheth, developed from field recordings, both conveyed a very real sense of place. The splashing water, manipulated honking geese and flapping wings of Sandwell Valley worked in harmony to effectively construct an impressionist landscape with sounds, a mediation on location without any need for the Western affectations of form, structure and long-term development, as did the often beautiful collage of subtly edited bird calls which comprised Pemberton Gardens.

The DIY punk aesthetic of the self-taught multidisciplinary artist and curator Poulomi Desai was very much evident in the overwhelming sonic experience of her evocatively titled Electromagnetic signals from our raging Black Earth, all our flora and fauna are burning, which lived up to its titular expectations with blasts of distorted, furiously raging electronic signal-noise, layered with insistent warning sirens, the clangour of broken circuitry, and a sense of theatrical overload. Very much a highlight of the evening, and of the album as a whole, this is music for the end of the world – a distress call from the heart of destruction rendered in coruscating electronic timbres at ear-pulverising volumes.

Exploring a wide range of sampled distorted voices & glitchy synths, Nicole Raymond's set was a study in the use of panned delays. In a live setting, as opposed to the immersive world of headphones, this created a very different impression, somehow both more focused and simultaneously more incoherent. Her techniques strip sounds of their original meanings and contexts, like a collage of panels from different comics, presented in the infinitely receding reflections of a hall of mirrors - somehow creating a new meaning, but a meaning which is always just out of reach to the listener. Raymond's sound world is hypnotic, disorientating and perplexing, with a sense of dark humour.

Concluding the evening, the vastly experienced eminence behind the whole project, Aniruddha Das (aka Dhangsha) performed a live electronic remix of his own tracks Mahapralay and Germinate. Drawing on a wide range of cultural influences, from dub to bhangra via African clave patterns, this was the most traditionally metrical and groove-based work on display across the evening, as evidenced by the number of bobbing heads in the well-attended and mixed audience. Additionally, as the only artist this evening to work extensively with synthesis, his was the music with the most pitch-based content. Continually varied through constant repetitions by gradual alterations, disintegrations, distortions and fragmentations this was music that seemed constantly dancing on the edge between rigid order and collapse into total chaos. Straddling a line between tradition(s) and innovation, Das presented a set which was on the verge of danceable, yet never crossing the line into predictability of phrase, pattern or timbre.

Disruptive Frequencies is available as a double vinyl or download from Nonclassical.

Disruptive Frequences at Kings Place, 16 July 2023
Bantu (Gary Stewart) - Dark Energy Live Stream Track 2
Dushume (Amit Dinesh Patel) - Chakria
Nikki Sheth - Sandwell Valley
Poulomi Desai - Electromagnetic signals from our raging Black Earth, all our flora and fauna are burning
NikNak (Nicole Raymond) - Combative Embers / Swirls
Nikki Sheth - Pemberton Gardens
Dhangsha (Aniruddha Das) – Mahapralay / Germinate

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