Monday 11 December 2023

Opera & Democracy: Transatlantic Conversations & Concerts celebrating the centenary of the reopening of the Krolloper in Berlin

Krolloper in Berlin in 1930
Krolloper in Berlin in 1930

2024 is the centenary of the reopening of the Krolloper in Berlin. It reopened in 1924 with a performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, as an offshoot of the Berlin State Opera, but under Otto Klemperer from 1927-1931 the Krolloper took on independent artistic significance, becoming a gathering space for the avant-garde as well as promoting the idea of inclusive and accessible opera. It was forced to close in 1931 and after the Reichstag fire in 1933 served as the seat of the last parliament – it was there that the Weimar Republic came to an end. Many Krolloper artists, including Otto Klemperer, were persecuted and forced into exile.

The Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles, the former residence of the Mann family in American exile and today an important German American cultural forum, is cooperating with renowned opera houses in Germany and partners in the USA to bring together international academics and artists for an exciting dialogue about opera and democracy, past and present. 

Opera & Democracy: Transatlantic Conversations & Concerts begins on 20 January 2024 at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles with an event that mixes conversations with artists and academics, considering the commitment of opera professionals to democratic societies, and a concert featuring Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's 1930 opera Der Jasager and music by Richard Wagner, Lily Reiff, Edmond Dédé.

The series is directed by Dr. Kai Hinrich Müller, a 2023 Thomas Mann Fellow. Future events take place at the Bavarian State Opera, Dresden Music Festival, Bauhaus Archive - Berlin, Hamburg State Opera and in New York and Providence Rhode Island.

Full details from the Thomas Mann House website.

Saturday 9 December 2023

We need to shift the focus from the artist's 'I' to the collective 'We', composer Samuel Andreyev on his recent disc, In Glow of Like Seclusion

Samuel Andreyev: In Glow of Like Seclusion - Ensemble Proton Bern, Luigi Gaggero (conductor), Peyee Chen (soprano) - Métier  MEX 77119

Canadian composer Samuel Andreyev released his latest album, In Glow of Like Seclusion, on the Métier label in November. His second collaboration with the Swiss Ensemble Proton Bern, the disc also features conductor Luigi Gaggero and soprano Peyee Chen in Samuel's the cantata In Glow of Like Seclusion setting the poetry of J H Prynne, along with Sonata da Camera, Sextet in Two Parts and Vérifications.

Samuel Andreyev self portrait
Samuel Andreyev self portrait
Born in Canada, Samuel settled in France in 2003. After completing his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris and IRCAM, he was awarded a one-year residency at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid, Spain. Upon returning from Spain, he settled in Strasbourg, on the border between France and Germany.

Samuel's collaboration with Ensemble Proton Bern dates back several years, and with In Glow of Like Seclusion, Samuel wanted to create a disc under the best possible conditions and reach as many people as possible. The disc features four of his ensemble pieces, chosen partly because of the constraints in recording and practical constraints regarding instrumentation. Vérifications was written some ten years ago whilst two of the other works on the disc, In Glow of Like Seclusion and Sonata da Camera, were written for the ensemble and premiered by them. The fourth work, Samuel's Sextet just happened to fit.

Many composers work with a large number of people, but Samuel prefers to consolidate his working relationships and concentrate on projects with fewer people, so he develops the relationship, spending more time with them and reducing his need to travel. He likes getting to know performers, concentrating on relationships that resonate so they can work together more.

Friday 8 December 2023

Dichterliebe Reimagined: Koen van Stade & Neal Peres Da Costa bring creative freedom & musical rhetoric to bear on Schumann's song cycle

Schumann: Dichterliebe; Koen van Stade, Neal Peres da Costa; Deux-Elles Reviewed 8 December 2023

Schumann: Dichterliebe;Koen van Stade, Neal Peres Da Costa; Deux-Elles
Reviewed 8 December 2023

Two performer scholars come together for an interpretation led by surviving evidence of early recordings and treatises to magical and compelling effect

When Julius Stockhausen and Johannes Brahms gave the first public performance of Schumann's Dichterliebe in 1861 (21 years after it was first written) what did it actually sound like? What did Schumann expect it to sound like. That 1861 performance has some currency, after all Brahms had known Robert Schumann well whilst Clara Schumann was still alive and in fact performed Dichterliebe with Stockhausen in 1862. In fact, the bass Robert Blass (1867-1930) studied with Stockhausen and recorded two songs, 'Im wunderschönen Monat Mai' and 'Ich grolle nicht' in 1903, and mezzo-soprano Therese Behr-Schnabel (1876-1959), also a Stockhausen pupil, recorded 'Ich grolle nicht' in 1904.

Whilst orchestras and instrumentalists have mined early recordings for information about performance practice in late 19th and early 20th-century music, these early vocal recordings have not had such currency. Few, if any, singers have attempted to emulate say Adelina Patti's performing style in the arias from Don Giovanni that she recorded. Why not?

Early recordings plus vocal treatises such as those of Manuel García’s (1805–1906) are important sources of information about late 19th century styles of performance. This is only something that has relatively recently been taken on board by Historically Informed Performance. For most of the late 20th century and later, HIP involved instrumentalists performing in period style with singers who might go some way to modifying style but kept a modern technique with its lowered larynx and strict adherence modern musical mores. 

A new recording of Schumann's Dichterliebe from Koen van Stade (tenor) and Neal Peres Da Costa (piano) on Deux-Elles attempts to remedy that. For a start, Peres Da Costa is playing a modern Viennese-Action Grand Piano after one by J. B. Streicher & Sohn, of around 1868. But more importantly both van Stade and Peres Da Costa have been reading those treatises and listening to early recordings to get an idea about performance practice. It is an art rather than a science, a singer's recordings can differ from their known verbal instructions, whilst some performance practices seem never to have been discussed in print. We are talking about tradition of instruction that was still very much oral.

BSO Young Associates expands and welcomes its second cohort

BSO Young Associates - Ed Lee, Àánú Sodipe and Tamara Sullivan

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has extended its community music training scheme, BSO Young Associates, to welcome a second cohort of aspiring leaders. The first cohort,  Lila Bhattacherjee and Sehyogue Aulakh, graduated from the scheme earlier this year, and is welcoming Ed Lee, Àánú Sodipe and Tamara Sullivan, who join the orchestra for a seven-month placement to work in communities across the South West, gaining the skills to deliver life-empowering projects with people of all ages.

The BSO Young Associates scheme was launched in 2022 to increase diversity in the sector, by offering aspiring community music leaders a career springboard through practical experience, training and mentoring. he scheme has expanded further this year, with the BSO offering a series of creative and music leader development workshops to all shortlisted applicants. 

  • Ed Lee is a guitarist and saxophonist who brings songwriting experience to the role, he has worked in SEND schools and is known for creating accessible and inclusive music
  • Àánú Sodipe is a singer, violinist, and pianist who composes afro-classical music and performs with the Chineke! Orchestra
  • Tamara Sullivan, trained as an oboist at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, is an Instrumental Ambassador for the Benedetti Foundation and a participant on the LSO Pathways scheme
Further details from the BSO website.

An Englishman, Frenchman, Spaniard, Italian and a German find themselves on a desert island: Bampton Classical Opera explores Alcina's Island

Title page of the third edition of John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso, 1634. The first edition was 1591
Title page of the third edition of John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso, 1634
The first edition was 1591

Ludovico Ariosto's Italian epic poem, Orlando Furioso, was published in the mid-16th century but it caught the imaginations not just of a generation but of a whole sequence of generations. The poem is about war and love and the romantic ideal of chivalry. It mixes realism and fantasy, humour and tragedy, with a huge cast of memorable characters who would crop up in art, literature and music. Handel was writing operas based on the poem in the 1730s (Orlando, Ariodante, and Alcina), and composers were still mining it in the early 19th century (there are Simone Mayr and Ambroise Thomas' operas inspired by it).

On an interesting side note, Sir John Harington who translated Orlando Furioso into English was a courtier at Queen Elizabeth I's court and the inventor of a pre-cursor of the flush toilet. The raciness of his translation of Ariosto angered the Queen and he was banished from court until he had finished the complete translation, which was published in 1591. In 1596 he published at political allegory, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax which included a description of the flushing toilet. The title was a pun, Ajax being a 'jakes', the slang word for toilet.

One of the earliest surviving operas based on Orlando Furioso is Francesca Caccini's La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina from 1625. Francesca Caccini's only surviving opera, the premiere in Florence also featured a horse ballet though alas modern performances of the opera have not attempted to include this. It was staged in 2015 by BREMF [see my review]. Caccini's opera treats the subject quite lightly, and it is clear that Ariosto's characters were regarded as entertainment, with a moral perhaps, but definitely something to be enjoyed and not worried over.

In 1772 another Alcina-inspired opera, L’isola d’Alcina, was premiered at the Teatro San Moisè, Venice, this was by ;Giuseppe Gazzaniga (1743-1718). Gazzaniga is now perhaps best known for his 1787 opera, Don Giovanni, whose text inspired Mozart and Da Ponte's opera. Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni was definitely comic, and his treatment of Alcina is similar.

In Gazzaniga's opera an Englishman, Frenchman, Spaniard, Italian and German get washed up on Alcina’s magical island where the seductive and beautiful sorceress (although 800 years old) has a habit of discarding her lovers and turning them into rocks or animals. Gazzaniga's music is fluent, cheerful and graceful, propelling the story forward with restless energy.

The opera was a success, it was widely seen in Europe until 1785. There were performances at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, London in 1776 and 1777 – but probably not in England since then. Now Bampton Classical Opera are producing it for their 2024 season, with performances in Bampton, Westonbirt School, Wadhurst in East Sussex and St John's Smith Square.

The company's 2023 production of Salieri's At the Venice Fair was shortlisted for the International Opera Awards 2023, in the Rediscovered Work category.  And Bampton's recent Young Singers' Competition was won by mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory  

Further details from the Bampton Opera website.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Voce Chamber Choir to premiere David Briggs' accessible adaptation of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast

Rembrandt: Belshazzar's Feast
Rembrandt: Belshazzar's Feast

William Walton's cantata, Belshazzar's Feast wasn't always intended to be the large-scale monster that it became. Walton's original commission from the BBC, in 1929, was for a short work for small forces!

After the work had grown, to double choir and full orchestra, the Leeds Festival took on the premiere in 1931. The director of the festival that year was Sir Thomas Beecham and he was conducting Berlioz' Requiem. Supposedly Beecham said to Walton "As you'll never hear the thing again, my boy, why not throw in a couple of brass bands?" [at the time, Walton was 29 and Beecham was 52]

The result, as they say is history.

The work might be enormously popular, but it requires huge resources, any choir wanting to perform it must gather the wherewithal for an extended symphony orchestra and two brass bands.

Now, with the support of the Walton estate, organist David Briggs has produced a new version of Belshazzar's Feast for choir and organ. The adaptation is the brainchild and commission of the London-based Voce Chamber Choir and its music director, Suzi Digby.

The choir has been working for over a year to crowd-source funds for the commission, its world premiere performance and a professional recording on Signum Records. The premiere takes place on 9 March 2024 at Our Lady of Victories church in London W8, when Suzi Digby and Voce Chamber Choir will be joined by David Briggs (organ) and Willard White (bass-baritone).

The choir is still crowd-funding, see their website for both support and tickets

Respighi and beyond: Guildhall School continues its exploration of his underrated musical legacy

Roberto González-Monjas conducts the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra in a rehearsal
Roberto González-Monjas conducts the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra in a rehearsal

During lockdown, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama did an innovative on-line performance of Respighi's opera La bella dormente nel bosco and the Guildhall School returned to the opera this term, performing a double bill of Respighi operas, La bella dormente nel bosco and Maria egiziaca; see soprano Holly Brown's article about working on the double bill. And the music of Respighi remains a thread running through the Guildhall School's new term.

On Tuesday 27 February 2024 in Milton Court Concert Hall, there is Vocal at Six: Respighi and Friends, an early evening recital directed by Iain Burnside that explores Respighi's songs, from Italian verismo to the world of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. 

Then under the baton of Roberto González-Monjas, the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra presents Respighi's three tone-poems about Rome on Wednesday 13 March 2024 in the Barbican Hall. Perhaps his best-known works the three tone poems, The Pines of Rome, The Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals, are notable for the way that Respighi uses his orchestration in the service of the emotional narrative. Add to that, they are damned good fun to play and to listen to! [further details]

Roberto González-Monjas is chief conductor designate of the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, principal guest conductor of the Belgian National Orchestra and artistic director of Iberacademy in Colombia.

Born in Bologna to a musical family, Respighi studied both composition and violin in Bologna and spent a season playing in the orchestra of the  Russian Imperial Theatre in Saint Petersburg during its season of Italian opera. Whilst there he studied orchestration and composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. After his return he spent quite some time in German, where he may have studied with Max Bruch. Whether he did or not, Germany was a big influence on Respighi's musical style. He died in 1936, but his relationship with the Fascist government seems to have been somewhat equivocal, he was honoured by the government in 1932 but completed no new compositions after 1933. During the post-War period he was grouped with other nationalist Italian composers, Malipiero, Ildebrando Pizzetti, and Pietro Mascagni, who were all regarded with suspicion.

The full season of events is listed on the Guildhall School's website.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

The Christmas Estates Tour is back! Brixton Chamber Orchestra takes an eclectic, inclusive free programme across housing estates in Lambeth

The Christmas Estates Tour is back! Brixton Chamber Orchestra takes an eclectic, inclusive free programme across housing estates in Lambeth

On Friday 8 December 2023, Brixton Chamber Orchestra (BCO) under artistic director Matthew O'Keeffe will be embarking on its sixth annual Christmas Estates Tour bringing free concerts to 13 housing estates across Lambeth. The tour runs until 21 December 2023 and features the 25-piece orchestra with its young and diverse players performing alongside emerging local singers, and rappers. The hour long set comprising classical to grime, disco, pop, jazz and classic Christmas tunes, redefines the idea of something for everyone.

BCO's Christmas Estates Tour is more than a series of concerts; it's a celebration of community spirit, offering Lambeth's housing estate communities the chance to experience the uplifting power of live music free of charge. BCO actively encourages inclusivity; audience participation is welcomed, with an orchestral open-mic at the end of each show where anyone can take the stage and perform alongside the orchestra.

In a cost-of-living crisis, where community connections are more vital than ever, the Christmas Estates Tour aims to bring people together and provide a free shared cultural experience. According to feedback from their recent Summer Estates Tour in July, an estimated 20% of the audience (1394 attendees over 12 performances) had never attended a live orchestral performance before. 

As part of the initiative, BCO has conducted workshops at local schools, including Christ Church Streatham Primary School and Evelyn Grace Academy. In a harmonious collaboration, the budding musicians from these schools will share the stage with BCO in special performances at their respective schools on the 8th and 15th of December. This unique opportunity allows them to showcase their talents, bringing the magic of the Christmas Estates Tour directly to the heart of their school communities.

Full details from BCO's website.

A lifetime's experience: John Nelson finally records Messiah in a finely engaged performance, with a fantastic quartet of soloists

Handel: Messiah; Lucy Crowe, Alex Potter, Michael Spyres, Matthew Brook, the English Concert & Choir, John Nelson; Erato

Handel: Messiah; Lucy Crowe, Alex Potter, Michael Spyres, Matthew Brook, the English Concert & Choir, John Nelson; Erato
Reviewed 4 December 2023

Superb musicality and a life-time's experience from John Nelson make this a finely engaged performance, with a fantastic quartet of soloists and an appendix with eight alternative readings

Handel wrote Messiah in 1741 for performances in Dublin in 1742. Unusually for Handel, the work was written without knowing quite who the soloists would be. The enthusiastic reception in Dublin was not repeated when Handel presented the work in London in 1743 and the work was only intermittently revived until Handel's charity performances for the Foundling Hospital began in 1750. From then on, Foundling Hospital performances of Messiah were a part of the London scene, and it is to these later performances that we owe the version of Messiah generally performed today.

Handel constantly adjusted the work, revising and tweaking. For the 1749 revival the castrato Gaetano Guadagni (best known for creating the role of Orfeo in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice), Handel created showy arias for the singer, he was added as a fifth soloist, rather than as replacement for the alto soloist. Handel's alto soloist was always a woman, during his lifetime a man never sang 'He was despised', and similarly with one exception when boys were used, the soprano soloist was always a woman.

The 1754 Foundling Hospital performance of Messiah is the first for which detailed of the orchestral and vocal forces survive; we not only have the original parts, we have the accounts with payments for the individual singers and musicians, something we lack for Handel's own performances. It is this performance that Christopher Hogwood based his iconic recording [originally on L'Oiseau Lyre] of Messiah with the Academy of Ancient Music, and subsequent period instrument performances have often investigated particular years of Messiah from the 1741 original [receiving its first recording], the 1742 Dublin version [recorded by John Butt & the Dunedin Consort on Linn Records] right through to Guadagni's 1749 performances [recorded by Rene Jacobs on harmonia mundi].

This new recording from conductor John Nelson and The English Concert and Choir on Erato features the soloists soprano Lucy Crowe, countertenor Alex Potter, tenor Michael Spyres and bass baritone Matthew Brook

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Birdsong, audience participation and a new Composer in Residence: the London Philharmonic Orchestra's new chamber music series at St John's Waterloo

St John's Waterloo
St John's Waterloo

Following two sold-out performances of Gavin Bryars’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet earlier in the year at St John's Waterloo, the London Philharmonic Orchestra LPO is continuing its partnership with the venue with a short season of chamber music concerts showcasing members of the LPO. The repertoire will include contemporary works by living composers, as well as arrangements of the likes of Duke Ellington and Stevie Wonder for surprising instrument combinations. The partnership between the LPO and St John's Waterloo also includes joint Education and Community projects, including accessible participatory musical experiences with the local communities that both serve.

The series opens on 17 January 2024 with John Luther Adams' songbirdsongs, a work based on Adams' own observations and studies of bird songs, scoring them for various ensembles of piccolos and ocarinas, and rather than having a fixed score, each musician performs their part from the composer’s instructions.

On 7 February the programme focuses on Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and George Gershwin with songs by Duke Ellington arranged by David Schiff for clarinet and string quartet, Simon Bainbridge’s tribute to Miles Davis, For Miles, and Carl Davis' arrangements of Gershwin for clarinet and strings. There will also be two funk soul songs, by Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder, arranged for four bassoons.

12 March sees the audience invited to participate, with Alex Ho's Breathe and Draw for sinfonietta, two conductors and audience participation, and Ryan Carter's Concerto Molto Grosso for audience and orchestra, and Ligeti's Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes. Alex Ho is an alumnus of the LPO Young Composers scheme, whilst the concert will be conducted by two LPO Fellow Conductors, Luis Castillo-Briceño and Charlotte Politi. The concert is part of the LPO's The Music in You festival, which celebrates the creativity in everyone, no matter their musical ability or background. 

The final concert in the season, on 22 May, is Streetwise Opera’s Re:Discover festival, celebrating the works of composers of African and Caribbean heritage, and features two works by the LPO’s new Composer-in-Residence, Tania León, plus further works yet to be announced.

Full details from the LPO website.

The Goldberg Variations Reimagined: Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque at Kings Place

The Goldberg Variations Reimagined: Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque; Kings Place
The Goldberg Variations Reimagined: Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque; Kings Place
Bach/Chad Kelly: The Goldberg Variations Reimagined: Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque; Kings Place
Reviewed 3 December 2023

A new orchestration of Bach for nine instruments brings out a sense of colour and style in a series of vivid reinventions, superbly played

Bach was an inveterate re-worker and re-user of material, most Baroque composers were. After all, the potential audience for any piece of music was usually relatively small, unless you were one of the lucky few with a wide published circulation, so composers could reuse without constantly worrying in the way modern composers might. 

And when Bach reused he could be quite creative in his reworking. After all, the Christmas Oratorio, which we heard on Saturday from Masaaki Suzuki and the OAE [see my review] is almost entirely based on pre-existing material.

So what might Bach have done to the Goldberg Variations? This thought kept popping into my head as I listened to The Goldberg Variations Reimagined, Chad Kelly's new version of Bach's Goldberg Variations created for violinist Rachel Podger and performed (in its London premiere) by her and Brecon Baroque at Kings Place on Sunday 3 December 2023.

Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations specifically for harpsichord, though it is common practice to perform it on the piano as well and there have been any number of transcriptions including that by Dmitry Sitkovetsky for string trio. Chad Kelly's avowed intention with his version was to ensure that the arrangement was idiomatic both to the historical instruments and to the styles and genres referenced in the work. What Kelly was trying to avoid was the sort of tricksy orchestration that remained true to Bach's keyboard notes, producing something stylistically anachronistic.

So we had an instrumental ensemble of Rachel Podger and Sabine Stoffer, violins, Jane Rogers, viola, Alex Rolton, cello and five-string cello, Carina Cosgrave, violone, Leo Durante, oboe and oboe da caccia, Katy Bircher, flute, Inga Kaucke, bassoon, and Marcin Swiatkiewicz, harpsichord. 

“If we consider again just how much money the music sector brings into the economy each year, it’s remarkable our government would not want to invest generously in its future.”

Gavin Higgins delivers the 2023 Brass Band England conference keynote speech (Photo: Gavin Joynt)
Gavin Higgins delivers the 2023 Brass Bands England conference keynote speech (Photo: Gavin Joynt)

The 2023 Brass Bands England (BBE) Conference took place in Huddersfield in October, a gathering together of over 150 delegates from over 80 organisations. The most recent BBE annual report testifies to increased financial resilience and membership increases, well defined commitments to inclusivity and diversity, the appointment of two new Youth Trustees and the funding of a ‘brass and drag’ musical project led by Freckleton Band and artist Jamie Fletcher.

The keynote speech at the conference was given by composer Gavin Higgins, who delivered an impassioned plea for arts funding and who testified to the importance of the brass band movement in his own background.

"I owe a debt of gratitude to the brass band movement for my training, without which I may never have become a musician."

Higgins' speech focused on the urgent need for advocacy and financial support for artistic subjects both in and outside our education system, and he called upon specific MPs who have benefited from a musical education or showed enjoyment of the arts, including Sir Keir Starmer, Thangam Debbonaire, Barbara Keeley, Chris Bryant and Kevin Brennan, to share concrete plans for supporting arts opportunities.

“For the first time in decades, we have a loud and supportive group of MPs who are passionate about the arts.”

Members of Tewit Band and Tewit Youth Band (Photo: Lorne Campbell)
Members of Tewit Band and Tewit Youth Band (Photo: Lorne Campbell)

When arts subjects are being subjected to more and more Government cuts, brass bands continue to offer both training and inspiration for performers of all ages and social backgrounds and act as a vital conduit for our professional music sector.

Higgins comes from a long lineage of working-class brass band musicians dating back to 1895 and his passion for this heritage has resulted in a number of vigorous, daring works for brass. His biggest and most ambitious piece to date, the Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra premiered at the 2022 BBC Proms and has led to him winning a Sky Arts Award as well as a Royal Philharmonic Society Award in the Large-Scale Composition category for the work. The work was premiered by the Tredegar Band, with whom Higgins has a long association, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with whom he is currently Composer in Association.

“You cannot begin to understand the wider world of British music without first understanding brass bands. They are still the biggest mass movement of working-class people making music in history and, I believe, Britain’s most alluring form of folk music.”

Horn player Ben Goldscheider will be premiering Gavin Higgins' Horn Concerto with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Jaime Martin in Cardiff on 14 January 2024 [see BBC website for details], and the work's London premiere will be on 7 February 2024 when Goldscheider joins the London Chamber Orchestra, conductor Christopher Warren-Green at Cadogan Hall [see Cadogan Hall website for details]

“The brass band to orchestra pipeline goes back a long way here in the UK ...
But I worry where the next generation will come from."

Read Gavin Higgins' full speech at the BBE website.

Monday 4 December 2023

Total immersion: the Glasshouse's Big Bruckner Weekend features his final three symphonies, a mass, motets & more

Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia (Photo: Mark Savage)
Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia (Photo: Mark Savage)
Next year is the 200th anniversary of Bruckner's birth, so expect plenty of celebrations of the composer's music, though the sheer scale of his symphonies makes anything like completeness difficult. The Glasshouse in Gateshead is having a Big Bruckner Weekend from 1 to 3 March 2024 offering audiences the opportunity to immerse themselves in final three symphonies, his motets, one of his masses and even his String Quintet.

Across the weekend, Domingo Hindoyan conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in Bruckner’s Symphony No.7, Sir Mark Elder and The Hallé perform Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 and Alpesh Chauhan conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner's unfinished Symphony No. 9

Thomas Zehetmair conducts the Royal Northern Sinfonia & chorus in Bruckner's Mass No. 3 with soloists Elizabeth Watts, Hannah Hipp, Thomas Atkins and Mark Stone, whilst throughout the weekend the chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia will be performing Bruckner's motets, conducted by Timothy Burke, and string principals of Royal Northern Sinfonia perform Bruckner’s String Quintet.

Full details from the Glasshouse website.

Bach's Christmas Oratorio from Masaaki Suzuki and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Masaaki Suzuki (Photo: Marco Borggreve)
Masaaki Suzuki (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Singet dem Herrn; Jessica Cale, Hugh Cutting, Guy Cutting, Florian Störtz, Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Masaaki Suzuki; Queen Elizabeth Hall
Reviewed 2 December 2023

The first of two concerts encompassing the whole of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in music making of the highest order, vividly bringing Bach's colourful music to life but also concentrating on the essential narrative

Written for performance across six occasions from Christmas to Epiphany, Bach's Christmas Oratorio was never designed for concert use and gives performers something of a challenge. Somewhat too long for the average concert, ensembles usually choose to perform a selection of the work's six parts, but for his performances with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conductor Masaaki Suzuki chose a different approach, spreading the entire work across two days and adding extra music by Bach.

On Saturday 2 December 2023, Masaaki Suzuki conducted the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Parts One to Three of Bach's Christmas Oratorio along with the motet Singet dem Herrn. Then on the Sunday, he conducted Parts Four to Six along with the Sanctus from the Mass in B Minor. We caught the first of the concerts, with soloists Jessica Cale, Hugh Cutting, Guy Cutting and Florian Störtz.

The soloists sang in the choir, making 16 vocalists in all, stepping out for their solo moments which made sense both of what we know of Bach's own performance practise and of the way the allocation of solos is somewhat uneven. Though it did mean that the performance was counterpointed by rather a lot of walking about from the soloists.

Merry & Bright - An Evening of Songs and Arias

Merry & Bright - An Evening of Songs and Arias
Soprano Susie Gibbons and pianist Joanna Kacperek are presenting an evening of classic Christmas songs, operatic arias and more at St George's Church, Campden Hill on 13 December 2023. 

Both performers are graduates of the Royal College of Music and they have performed around London and Ireland together as a duo.

Dublin-born soprano Susie Gibbons graduated with distinction from the Royal College of Music with a Master of Performance as a Sussex Scholar, studying with Amanda Roocroft and Andrew Robinson. She has recently been busy in Wexford where she made her debut with Wexford Festival Opera as Suor Osmina and Le Suore Cercatrici in Suor Angelica and joined the Wexford Festival Opera Chorus to sing Marco Tutino's La Ciociara [see my interview with the opera's conductor Francesco Cilluffo]

Joanna Kacperek is currently an Oxford Song Young Artist with her Lied-duo partner Clara Barbier Serrano, and she was a finalist at the Royal Over-Seas League Competition in London (2022).

Further details from EventBrite.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Norwich-based music writer, Tony Cooper, offers an account of Organ Re-born! a mini-concert series mounted in celebration of the return and rebirth of Norwich Cathedral’s organ.

The recently rebuilt Norwich Cathedral organ (Photo: Bill Smith / Norwich Cathedral)
The recently rebuilt Norwich Cathedral organ (Photo: Bill Smith / Norwich Cathedral)

Organ Re-born! Norwich Cathedral
11-26 November 2023, reviewed by Tony Cooper

After undergoing a major refit, every stop of Norwich Cathedral’s fine organ (one of the largest pipe organs in the country) can be gloriously heard to maximum effect.

Norwich Cathedral has been in celebratory mood of late with its Organ Re-born! mini-concert series featuring a couple of concerts together with a celebrity organ recital with the series culminating with Festal Evensong. The first concert featured Norwich Cathedral Chamber Choir and Onyx Brass conducted by Ashley Grote accompanied by organist, David Dunnett. A visit by the BBC Singers conducted by Nicholas Chalmers featured special guest conductor/presenter, Ed Balls, accompanied by organist Ashley Grote. Organ Re-born! continued with the internationally-renowned organist Thomas Trotter giving the inaugural recital while the grand festivities concluded with Festal Evensong sung by Norwich Cathedral Choir under Ashley Grote with David Dunnett in the organ loft. The service culminated in grand style with the Blessing of the Organ by the Rt-Revd Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich.

Over the past 18 months or so, the organ of Norwich Cathedral (one of the largest pipe organs in the country) has been under major restoration, a mammoth undertaking in every sense of the word. For a start, every one of the 5,767 pipes and 102 speaking stops had to be reset and individually fine-tuned in a process known as ‘voicing’ - a painstaking and delicate task.

The work was carried out by world-renowned organ specialists, Harrison & Harrison, after a sum of £1.8 million was raised by way of generous donations through an organ appeal under the patronage of Prince Edward, HRH The Earl of Wessex, now, of course, the Duke of Edinburgh. A big chunk, however, came from the £2.5 million They Shall Laugh and Sing Music Appeal.

Saturday 2 December 2023

The Hidden Light: composer Joanna Marsh on her triptych of pieces for the choir of St John's College, Cambridge

Joanna Marsh
Joanna Marsh

Composer Joanna Marsh has been commissioned for a triptych of pieces for the choir of St John's College, Cambridge, the first commission under its new director of music Christopher Gray. Joanna's first piece, The Hidden Light was premiered at the recent Service for Advent with Carols at St John's College, and the service is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 3 December 2023. Joanna's other pieces for the commission will be performed at Epiphany and during Lent, and all three use texts by the priest/poet Malcolm Guite.

I spoke to Joanna whilst she was in Cambridge for rehearsals before the Advent Carol Service on 25 November, though problems with Wi-Fi meant that we had to make do with a rather indifferent connection in a café that she had found! When I asked how rehearsals were going she was most complimentary; the music is complex, using eight parts, and she found the choir stunning, though she has just tweaked a few things in the music.

Friday 1 December 2023

Tair Llythyren | La mamma morta | Three Letters

To mark World AIDS Day 2023, Welsh National Opera has released a special new version of La mamma morta, featuring WNO Orchestra, soprano Camilla Roberts and Nathaniel Hall from Channel 4's It’s a Sin

A famous scene from the Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington movie Philadelphia (1993) has been readdressed in La mamma morta.A brand-new recording of the aria plays over recreated scenes that better encapsulate the perspectives of people living with HIV today and reflect on the remarkable developments around HIV that have occurred over the last three decades since Philadelphia was first released.

Nathanial J Hall said: 'Philadelphia exists in a canon of work about HIV and AIDS - along with Angels in America and Rent – and whilst these are all incredible pieces of work, they focus on HIV as life-limiting because of the time-period they cover. It's important now to use storytelling and music to celebrate how far we've come and raise awareness of the modern-day realities of living with HIV. Sadly, people still face stigma, discrimination and rejection from others because of this virus and there's absolutely no reason why they should.’

Released as part of the last rendition in our Three Letters project, this film aims to tackle societal stigma around HIV. See on YouTube.

Monteverdi's first opera, the historically informed Ring Cycle continues, Bruckner's 200th birthday, composer Sven Helbig live - Dresden's 47th music festival

Wagner: Das Rheingold - Derek Welton, Kent Nagano, Mauro Peter, Daniel Schmutzhard, Concerto Köln & Dresdner Festspielorchester - Dresden Music Festival 2023
Wagner: Das Rheingold - Derek Welton, Kent Nagano, Mauro Peter, Daniel Schmutzhard, Concerto Köln & Dresdner Festspielorchester - Dresden Music Festival 2023

The 47th Dresden Music Festival runs from 9 May to 9 June 2024 under the title Horizons, presenting 60 events in 21 venues in and around Dresden. 

Things kick off in fine style with a concert performance of Wagner's Die Walküre with Kent Nagano conducting the combined forces of two period instrument ensembles, the Dresdner Festspielorchester and Concerto Köln, a continuation of the festival's exploration of an historically informed Ring Cycle that began last year with Des Rheingold [see my review]. 

Further historically informed performances include soprano Janine de Bique and Concerto Köln in arias by Handel, Graun, Broschi, Telemann and Vinci, Haydn's The Seasons with Jordi Savall and La Capella Nacional de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations, Mark Minkowski and the Dresdner Festspielorchester in Wagner, Mendelssohn and excerpts from Offenbach's rare grand opera Die Rheinnixen. The ensemble lautten compagney BERLIN directed by Nikolaus Habjan, with the conductor and lute player Wolfgang Katschner stage Monteverdi's L'Orfeo with Rolando Villazón in the title role. Philippe Herreweghe directs Collegium Vocale Gent in Bach's Mass in B Minor.

For the festival's official opening night, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and chief conductor designate, Klaus Mäkelä, celebrate Anton Bruckner’s 200th birthday with a performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 5, and for the final concert Jakub Hrůša directs the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in an all-Smetana programme.

Dresden’s Staatsschauspiel presents Brecht & Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper with the action transposed to today’s Germany. Thomas Quasthoff joins the Amatis Trio for a programme that combines readings from World War I letters and diaries by soldiers and their families with music by Rebecca Clarke, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Fritz Kreisler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Anton Webern. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja will be playing the violin and reciting in a performance of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. 

Other visitors include Abel Selaocoe and the Bantu Ensemble, violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing in Grieg Szymanowski, Faure and Ravel,  pianist Hélène Grimaud and the Camerata Salzburg in Beethoven, Schumann and Mendelssohn, pianist Lang Lang, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann in Ravel and Debussy, violinist Daniel Lozakovich, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Manfred Honeck in Andrea Tarrodi, Sibelius and Dvorak, violinist Daniel Hope, cellist Jan Vogler (intendant of the festival), Deutsches Symphonie-orchester Berlin and Anna Rakitina in Florence Price, Tchaikovsky and Miklós Rózsa's Sinfonia concertante for Violin, Cello and Orchestra Op. 29, violinist Elen Urioste joins Chineke! for Fela Sowándé, Cassie Kinoshi and Max Richter. Jan Vogler joins the Philharmonia Orchestra and Santtu-Matias Rouvali for Anna Clyne's Cello Concerto. Patricia Kopatchinskaja and the Dresden Philharmonic are performing a group of concerts including music by Stravinsky, Prokofiev 

Countertenor Xavier Sabata will be joining the saxophone quartet Kebyart for everything from Handel to Gershwin and behond, soprano Simone Kermes joins with Amici Veneziani,  baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser in Schumann. Pianist recitals include Francesco Piemontesi in Beethoven & Debussy, Igor Levitt in Mahler arranged Ronald Stevenson, Hindemith and Beethoven's Eroica Symphony arranged Liszt, Anton Meijas, and Seong-Jin Cho.

Composer Sven Helbig will be presenting his radio show, Schöne Töne, live on stage.

Full details from the festival's website.

To support newly graduated northern based musicians and composers at the very start of their musical careers: first Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellows announced

The inaugural Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship - James Weatherley-Buss, Marcus Silva, Georgina MacDonell Finlayson, Sean Morrison, Ben Norris (Photo: Manchester Camerata /Jay Cipriani)
The inaugural Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship - James Weatherley-Buss,
Marcus Silva, Georgina MacDonell Finlayson, Sean Morrison, Ben Norris
(Photo: Manchester Camerata /Jay Cipriani)

The Manchester Camerata has announced the five recipients of its inaugural Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship. Created with the support of The Ruth Sutton Trust for Music, five northern based fellows each receive a paid, year long bespoke training programme - commencing now - in which they will gain vital experience of all aspects of a musical career working with the Manchester Camerata. 

The Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship was launched specifically to support newly graduated northern based musicians and composers at the very start of their musical careers

Each Fellow will spend the next 12 months immersed in the working life of Manchester Camerata  - from vital performance opportunities, community work engagement with schools, care home and music cafes, to marketing, finance, management, and leadership experience. They will each work closely with a Manchester Camerata musician who will act as both mentor and guide throughout their year. 

The five Fellows are:

    • Georgina MacDonell Finlayson, a Scottish violinist, fiddle player, composer and community arts practitioner with a graduate of University of Edinburgh with a Masters in Music from the Royal Northern College of Music
    • Sean Morrison, a Scottish violin player and traditional fiddle player, a graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and currently studying for Masters at the RNCM
    • Marcus Silva, a Brazilian-born double-bass player moved to Manchester in 2018 to study at the RNCM where he graduated
    • Ben Norris, a British-born viola player, he is now a Junior Fellow at the RNCM having previously studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. 
    • James Weatherley-Buss, a British composer, multi-instrumentalist and experimental electronic artist living in Manchester. He has recently completed a postgraduate degree in composition at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Further information from the Manchester Camerata's website.

Early Beethoven & Verdi's only string quartet in London's oldest surviving Livery Hall

Apothecaries' Hall
Apothecaries' Hall

Verdi: String Quartet in E minor, Beethoven: String Quartet No. 3 in D major; Kleio String Quartet; City Music Foundation at the Apothecaries' Hall
29 November 2023

Beethoven's first string quartet paired with Verdi's only essay in the genre in engagingly characterful performances from CMF Artists, the Kleio String Quartet

The Great Hall at St Bartholomew's Hospital is currently closed for restoration, which means that for its 10th anniversary season the City Music Foundation (CMF) is presenting its lunchtime concerts at a selection of the City's Livery Halls. On Wednesday 29 November 2023, it was the turn of the Apothecaries' Hall, the oldest surviving Livery Hall in use in London. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries rebuilt their hall in the years following the Fire of London from 1669 to 1672 and three main rooms, including the hall itself, remain unchanged since the late 17th-century.

At the Apothecaries' Hall on 29 November 2023, CMF Artists the Kleio String Quartet (Yume Fujise, Katherine Yoon, Jenny Lewisohn and Eliza Millett) performed Verdi's String Quartet in E minor and Beethoven's String Quartet No. 3 in D major.

Thursday 30 November 2023

A distinctive voice & a richly rewarding sound-world: songs by Franco Alfano from Anna Pirozzi & Emma Abbate

Franco Alfano: Songs; Anna Pirozzi, Emma Abbate, Bozidar Vukotic; Resonus Classics
Franco Alfano: Songs; Anna Pirozzi, Emma Abbate, Bozidar Vukotic; Resonus Classics
Reviewed 28 November 2023

Alfano's rather dim reputation as a 20th century opera composer does not prepare you for the surprisingly rich and rewarding sound-world of his songs

You cannot help but feel that the Italian composer Franco Alfano (1876-1954) has received a poor deal from musical history. Despite his 1904 opera, Risurrezione, retaining a toe-hold in the repertoire, Alfano remains best known as the man who completed Puccini's Turandot, yet the completion of the opera that we commonly hear today was heavily revised by the conductor Arturo Toscanini, and Alfano's original rarely gets an outing.

This disc from soprano Anna Pirozzi and pianist Emma Abbate with cellist Bozidar Vukotic on Resonus Classics takes a different look at Alfano, featuring a programme of his songs, from his Cinq mélodies, written when he was a 21-year-old student at the Leipzig Conservatoire right through to Due liriche per canto, violoncello e pianoforte from 1949.

Emma Abbate seems to be making something of a project of reviving unjustly neglected 20th century Italian song and previous on Resonus she has released discs of Ildebrando Pizzetti's songs with Hanna Hipp [see my review] and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's settings of Shakespeare's sonnets with Ashley Riches [see my review]. This disc reveals another, rather striking Italian 20th-century voice.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

There's still time to apply for The Benedetti Foundation’s Ambassador cohort for 2024

The Benedetti Foundation's Ambassador Programme (Photo: Chris J Parker)
The Benedetti Foundation's Ambassador Programme (Photo: Chris J Parker)

The Benedetti Foundation's Ambassador Programme runs annually from February to December and is a training scheme for young professionals (age around 19 to 35) dedicated to developing their practical, instrumental teaching and workshop leading skills, as well as growing their love for performance. The programme is open to instrumentalists, singers, creatives and workshop leaders. 

Peer learning and support is a crucial part of the programme. All Ambassadors join a small mentor group, led by a Tutor Mentor and more experienced Lead Ambassador, which provides the opportunity to work together and to prepare and practice teaching activities, expand their knowledge and understanding of instruments other than their own, explore the use of social media in music education and performance, discuss, debate and reflect on questions surrounding music education and their role as advocates, and form a close, supportive network with their fellow ambassadors

The aim of this programme is to create a legacy of world leading and innovative musicians and educators. The time the Ambassadors spend with the Foundation is transformational in shaping their careers and in turn the experiences of the next generation of learners. 

Approximately 100 students and graduates are offered places on the Ambassador Programme each year, with the programme open to participants both in the UK and studying abroad. There are two concurrent cohorts each year, dividing the musicians into their best-suited category - Instrumental Ambassadors or Creative Learning Ambassadors,

Applications close at 9am tomorrow (30 November 2023), details from the foundation website.

Handel by candle-light & a gig on Jimi Hendrix's bed: Handel Hendrix After Dark

Intesa Duo at Handel Hendrix House
Intesa Duo at Handel Hendrix House

Handel Hendrix House After Dark; Intesa Duo, Maya Delilah
25 November 2023

Two contrasting gigs in Handel's dining room and Jimi Hendrix's bedroom as Handel Hendrix House welcomes visitors to its evocative, candle-lit historic interiors

Handel lived at 25 Brook Street from 1723 until his death in 1759, whilst Jimi Hendrix moved into a flat next door at 23 Brook Street in 1968, and his time there would be the longest period that he spent in one place. Since 2000, when the Handel House Trust took over, the presentation of the buildings has expanded. Initially, only the first and second floors of 25 Brook Street were restored and open to the public, then Jimi Hendrix's flat at 23 Brook Street was restored, helped by the fact that no. 23 had had no major structural work since then, and the most recent expansion has seen the ground floor of Handel's house restored to something like the state that Handel would have known. 

Both no. 23 and no. 25 have display spaces alongside the restored interiors so that both Handel's house and Hendrix flat are displayed in as close a state to what would have existed. This means that Handel's rooms now feature a significant selection of paintings that emulate the collection as known in Handel's day. Rather than functioning as a museum about Handel, it is a house intended to evoke the period of Handel's occupancy and introduce the work the he created there.

During November 2023, Handel Hendrix House started a series of Handel Hendrix After Dark where the house was open in the evening, with the 18th century house lit only by candles (electric, but very effective) and with live music both in Handel's dining room, where he rehearsed with singers, and in Hendrix's bedroom. We went along on Friday 24 November 2023 for an evening that celebrated Jimi Hendrix' birthday (he would have been 81 on 27 November 2023). 

In Handel's dining room we heard the Intesa Duo, which consists of Lucine Musaelian and Nathan Giorgietti, both playing bass viols and Musaelian singing, then in Hendrix' bedroom there was a set from the young singer/songwriter Maya Delilah.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with a musical twist from Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with a musical twist from Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is ubiquitous at Christmas, indeed it could be argued that with this book and his other writings Dickens effectively invented the modern Christmas. This year, the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) is bringing a musical twist to the tale. 

The BPO Brass Quintet is joining forces with actor Pip Torrens for a version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol narrated by Torrens with music from the BPO Brass Quintet featuring brass arrangements of Ding Dong Merrily on High, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In, Coventry Carol, O Come O Come Emmanuel and more, with BPO's artistic director at the piano, and the who show directed by Richard Williams.

There are two performances in Brighton at St George's Kemptown on 15 December 2023 [further details] and a performance at the World Heartbeat Academy in London on 14 December [further details]. And seasonal refreshments will be available.

If that isn't your thing, then this Sunday (3 December 2023), the full Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra has a Winter Solstice programme conducted by Sian Edwards at Brighton Dome, with Arvo Pärt's Lamentate, his dramatic ritual for piano (Joanna McGregor) and orchestra written for a collaboration with Anish Kapoor at the opening of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2002, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 [further details]

What is existence all about? London Youth Opera relaunches with ambitious new opera, Pandora's Box from Stuart Hancock and Donald Sturrock

London Youth Opera: Pandora's Box from Stuart Hancock and Donald Sturrock.

W11 Opera has relaunched as London Youth Opera, the name change reflecting on the way the company's remit has expanded well beyond the W11 postcode. For their first production under the new name, LYO is presenting Pandora's Box by composer Stuart Hancock and librettist Donald Sturrock at the Royal Academy of Music's Susie Sainsbury Theatre on 16 and 17 December 2023.

The opera is a comic fusion of blues, pop, and classical opera that uses ancient Greek mythology as a starting point. This contemporary satire on 21st century family life asks the big question:

What is existence all about? 

In Hancock and Sturrock's version of the myth, when Pandora Woakes receives the gift from Prometheus, salesman at Olympus Enterprises, on the eve of her 18thbirthday, she is unaware of the mayhem that will befall her well-meaning family.  Opening it, she unwittingly releases Greed, Vanity, and Envy into the mortal world. Friendships break, selfishness rules, and chaos ensues over the course of one turbulent day in the quaint English village of Middle Demos. 

There is resolution, but there are no easy answers.

This will be Stuart Hancock's third opera collaboration with Donald Sturrock for W11 Opera, following the successes of Rain Dance (2010) and the pirate romp Cutlass Crew (2017), which is received its US premiere in Boston in spring 2023. Stuart Hancock is a composer of film, TV and concert music, and his latest film music includes Hiroshima: 75 Years Later (a feature documentary for the History Channel) and the British animated feature film Kensuke’s Kingdom, adapted from the popular Michael Morpurgo book of the same name, which premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2024. [Read my 2020 interview with Stuart]

Full details of Pandora's Box from London Youth Opera's website.

Captivating & fascinating: Goldberg from Syriab Trio and Trio d'Iroise, bringing together Western classical, Arabic music and Bach

Goldberg: Syriab Trio, Trio d'Iroise; SOLAIRE RECORDS
Goldberg: Syriab Trio, Trio d'Iroise; SOLAIRE RECORDS
Reviewed 27 November 2023

A fascinating disc as two ensembles, one Western classical and one Arabic, journey through Bach's Goldberg Variations exploring what it means to play together, to base music on Bach yet synthesise with Arabic music. 

Some years ago, the Syriab Trio (Abdalhade Deb, oud/singing, Ibrahim Bajo, kanun, Amjad Sukar, percussion) did a project with Ensemble Reflektor, a North German chamber orchestra that included the cellist Johann Caspar Wedell. Wedell and the men of the Syriab Trio had lots of discussions, about music and about the mens' personal stories of war and displacement. The result was a wish to work together after that project ended.

The end result is this disc, Goldberg from Solaire Records, where the combined forces of the Syriab Trio and Trio d'Iroise (Sophie Pantzier, violin, Francois Lefevre, viola, Johann Caspar Wedell, cello) explore Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Goldberg - Syriab Trio and Trio d'Iroise
Goldberg - Syriab Trio and Trio d'Iroise

Sophia Lambton introduces her new book, The Callas Imprint: A Centennial Biography

Sophia Lambton introduces her new book, The Callas Imprint: A Centennial Biography
Novelist and music critic Sophia Lambton's new book, The Callas Imprint: A Centennial Biography, will be published by The Crepuscular Press on 2 December  2023, the singer's 100th birthday. Lambton has mined extensive sources, some 3395 spanning 80 years and 21 countries, to present an in-depth picture of the singer. Here, Sophie Lambton introduces the book, the project and herself.

What made you want to write the book?

I was thirteen when my father introduced me to Maria Callas through her Carmen. Infatuation with the voice soon followed but I had no interest in her as a person – even as I grew intrigued by other greats that had defined her era: Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Herbert von Karajan. Back then a Google search or mere glimpse at her Wikipedia page suggested she was one of those erratic divas capable of coming off the spool.

For this reason I was stunned to stumble upon somebody entirely unknown to me at eighteen. When YouTube searches led me down a rabbit hole of interviews I found that I identified with her – especially in all discussions on the need for consummate perfectionism in the opera world. She very much appeared both a consistent and coherent personality: nothing to do with this bête noire that figures in the Callas literature and fictionalised versions of her life.

I was aghast and at a loss to think that millions of adorers of her art did not know such a person. I was also horrified at how dismissively a portion of them wrote her off: I remember being at La Scala’s museum in 2012 and witnessing a group of German tourists eye a portrait of her on the wall. My German’s pretty limited and was quite non-existent then, but I distinctly heard one of them say something along the lines of: “What was his name…? Oh, yes – Onassis.” The moment you begin to research her you find too many scribes and filmmakers want to know nothing more than information about him. Sometimes it’s as if that giant Callas art never existed.

The Callas Imprint is the first biography to guide the reader through her life through her eyes. My mission is to let her fans (and, for that matter, her detractors) live through her experiences onstage and off- through her perceptions; let them share her soul.

How are you qualified to write about Callas?

I became an opera critic aged seventeen. The first reason I fell in love with Callas as a person was a shared sensibility on the criteria for operatic gold: a strong technique sustained by never-faltering legato; manipulation of the voice to mould a character; engagement of the body; a well-crafted set design. Most biographers who’ve written about Callas either shove aside her contribution to the world of opera altogether, or extend fusty analyses of roles that lack in empathy.

As a fellow artist – I’m primarily a novelist – I wanted to convey this woman as a single entity. I don’t divide the artist from the person: that’s not life. I juxtapose her glorious – and sometimes, short-of-glorious – achievements on the stage and in the studio and the rehearsal hall with banal moments like her play with poodles, marital disputes, shopping excursions. I seek to prove that genius is not a lightbulb moment: Callas’ great apexes were worked toward obsessively and furiously and not always attained. As every other life, it is a journey weaving in and out of shoddy days and hazy headiness; euphoria and uproar.

My discovery of crucial documents – primarily Callas’ correspondence with her manager Sander Gorlinsky, as well as letters to her legal separation lawyer, Augusto Caldi-Scalcini, directors Luchino Visconti and Alexis Minotis and many others – offered me insight into Callas’ dizzying rollercoaster of a life. That and a heap of 3395 sources spanning twenty-one countries made over eighty years add up to make a narrative rich in real dialogues and vivid exhibitions of the episodes in her career and in her private life. It feels like a novel but nothing is made up.

What is different about this biography?

I would say that most Callas biographies up to the present day have been obsessed with pushing authors’ concepts about her. Of course, like other scribes I have my thoughts – nobody can be neutral about Callas – but The Callas Imprint is so saturated with her quotes combined with others', with her renditions beside miscellaneous ones; with Callas’ own contradictions that I leave the reader space to make up their own mind.

She is a complex personality who puzzles many. I could set forth an agenda implore the reader to believe my version, but I won’t. The mix of excerpts I’ve derived from letters and interviews both by her and her peers; from quotations from books that had a single print run maybe fifty, sixty years ago and since then haven’t seen the light of day; from my own interviews with those who knew her and a horde of other sources will permit the reader to know Callas very well. After that they can determine who she was.

What do you want a music lover to get out of it?

This sounds hard to believe but I still think most fans don’t understand the sheer enormity that is the Callas art. I want music lovers to detect that Callas was not just a strong performer, but a true creator: that she sculpted characters through an extraordinary (and sometimes dangerous) manipulation of the voice; that her vast impact on the opera stage was not confined to her soprano role alone. She helped construct her colleagues’ craftmanship – including that of Franco Corelli, Alexis Minotis and Tito Gobbi. She had a hand in choosing costumes, wigs and set design and choreography. She argued about tempi and encores with maestri. Her art was not just the supreme extension of her Violetta, Gilda, Norma, Tosca. It was the ultimate rendition any given opera could become. It’s Apollonian idealism. There hasn’t been another artist of this calibre on stage or film. There likely won’t be for at least a century to come.

What does Callas mean to you?

A rare artist who was able to examine the whole picture of an art of which she only formed a part. We don’t like to admit this, but most actors know when they play in a bad movie. A lot of opera singers contribute to paltry stagings knowing full well they’re in scenic dregs. But compromise is understandable: artists go hungry and they need to pay their rents and feed their kids.

Callas was born not like that. From her teenage years she had a vision that she craved to execute. I can’t think of any other textual or musical interpreter who cared so much about the output as a whole, not just their incarnation. She made me look at art from an entirely panoramic standpoint – thus inspiring me to learn about aesthetics not just from my fellow writers but the theatre, film and music. She made me realise art’s creation is the finding of a new world. I feel as though the world she found is very much alive. But people, maybe just subconsciously, don’t realise she’s behind it. 

Further details of The Callas Imprint from the The Crepuscular Press.
The Callas Imprint on Amazon.

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