Thursday, 23 March 2023

Touches of Sweet Harmony: Leeds Lieder's 2023 festival

Touches of Sweet Harmony: Leeds Lieder's 2023 festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the festival website.


Wednesday, 22 March 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further details and tickets for the concert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

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

Continuo Foundation round five grantees

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the Continuo Foundation website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opera Vision's Next Generation podcast

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

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

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

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

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

Explore more at OperaVision's Next Generation podcast -

Monday, 20 March 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the festival website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 March 2023

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 March 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the festival website.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Frida, Maria & co: Leeds Opera Festival goes Latin American for 2023

Leeds Opera Festival 2023

There is a Latin American theme to the 2023 Leeds Opera Festival. Taking place in over a dozen venues across Leeds and organised by Northern Opera Group, this year's festival runs from 19 August to 10 September 2023 and features the UK premiere of Robert Rodriguez' opera Frida, about the artist Frida Kahlo, and a new production of Astor Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires.

Since its premiere in 1991, Robert Rodriguez' opera Frida has been enormously successful in the USA, but is only now making its way to the UK. It was commissioned by the American Music Theater Festival and tells the life story of the artist Frida Kahlo. The Leeds Opera Festival production will be directed by Francesca Murray-Fuentes and conducted by Odaline de la Martinez, and the cast includes Parvathi Subbiah, Jacobo Ochoa, and Julia Merino.

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Robert Xavier Rodriguez' teachers have included Nadia Boulanger, Jacob Druckman, Bruno Maderna and Elliott Carter. Rodriguez describes Frida's idiom as "in the Gershwin, Sondheim, Kurt Weill tradition of dissolving the barriers and extending the common ground between opera and musical theater".

A new production of Piazzolla's tango operita, Maria de Buenos Aires, will be given in collaboration with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, choreographed & directed by Carlos Pons Guerra and conducted by Natalia Luis-Bassa.

A new pop-up opera by composer Jose Puello and writer Zodwa Nyoni will be touring venues across Leeds and surrounding areas. The opera is being developed with young people from primary schools in Leeds who are taking part in workshops on traditional Latin American folk stories and songs.

Additionally, there is a programme of talks, workshops and recitals, including works by Latin American female composers from Helen Glaisher Hernandez and Lorena Paz Nieto, a concert from Cuban guitarist Ahmed Dickinson, and a rare UK appearance from Spanish pianist Jose Luis Nieto.

Full details from the festival website.

A wonderful sense of poetry: Timothy Ridout in Lionel Tertis' viola transcription of Elgar's Cello Concerto

Elgar: Cello Concerto, transcribed for viola by Lionel Tertis, Bloch: Suite for Viola and Orchestra; Timothy Ridout, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins; Harmonia Mundi

Elgar: Cello Concerto, transcribed for viola by Lionel Tertis, Bloch: Suite for Viola and Orchestra; Timothy Ridout, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed 10 March 2023

A gorgeously poetic account of Tertis' viola transcription of Elgar's Cello Concerto that completely captivates on its own terms, accompanied by Bloch's fascinatingly exotic contemporaneous suite

Lionel Tertis seemed to be rather proud of his transcription for viola of Elgar's Cello Concerto, at least he devotes some pages in his autobiography to an anecdote about playing it through to Elgar for the first time (with piano accompaniment). And interestingly, on the recent Building a Library feature on BBC Radio 3's Record Review devoted to Walton's Viola Concerto (written in 1929), the reviewer suggested that one of Tertis' reasons for turning down the Walton was that at the time, Tertis was much involved in promoting his viola version of the Cello Concerto.

On this disc from Harmonia Mundi, viola player Timothy Ridout plays Tertis' transcription of Elgar's Cello Concerto alongside an almost exactly contemporaneous work, Ernest Bloch's Suite for Viola and Orchestra. Ridout is accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Celebrating Wren and his church: Tercentenary festival at St Stephen's Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook
St Stephen Walbrook

Architect and polymath,  Sir Christopher Wren died 300 years ago this year. In addition to the various celebrations of Wren's achievements, architectural and otherwise, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) is joining forces with St Stephen Walbrook to present a festival of music commemorating Wren, who designed the church following the Great Fire of London in 1666. The three concerts aim to provide a snapshot of musical life at the time of Wren's death. 

A recital of music by Purcell interspersed with atmospheric readings from the period will evoke the time when Wren rebuilt the city following the Great Fire whilst Purcell composed the music for its reviving theatre scene and newly opulent church and royal court. Vivaldi’s cycle of four violin concertos, The Four Seasons, is believed to have been completed in 1723, the year of Sir Christopher Wren’s death, and will be played by Debretzeni, one of the OAE’s leaders. Then the OAE presents one of their signature Baroquebusters concerts. From fellow Londoner Handel to Bach, Albinoni and Pachelbel, this engaging and interactive concert of much-loved Baroque favourites will offer a snapshot of musical life at the end of Wren’s life, exploring why these works are all so popular today. There will be an opportunity for the audience to meet the players and learn about their historical instruments.

2023 marks not only the 300th anniversary of Wren's death, but the 350th anniversary of St Stephen's Walbrook, and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Samaritans at the church, so there are lots more anniversary events planned. Full details from St Stephen Wallbrook's website.

Classical music and more: Bath Festival 2023

Bath Festival in 2022 - Steve Reich's Drumming with Colin Currie Quartet at Bath Abbey
Bath Festival in 2022 - Steve Reich's Drumming with Colin Currie Quartet at Bath Abbey

The Bath Festival is running from 12 to 21 May this year, and features a diverse mix of music, literature and other events. The Bath Festival Orchestra, conductor Peter Manning, is in residence over the opening weekend, presenting a concert in Bath Abbey, featuring music by the 18th-century Viennese composer Marianna Martinez, Bruckner, Hans Andre Stamm and Mozart plus Mozart's Requiem with local choir Bath Camerata and an appealing line-up of soloists Nadine Benjamin, Kitty Whately, Thomas Walker and William Thomas. There is also an open rehearsal earlier in the day.

Another local ensemble, the Bath Philharmonia will be joined by violinist Esther Yoo and the 120 young people of Bath Festival's Schools Voices for a concert that includes music by John Adams, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Jonathan Dove plus the premiere of the Bath Festival Schools' Voices commission.

A sequence of morning recitals features the festival's rising stars with concerts by Iyad Sughayer (piano), Jaren Ziegler (viola), Tim Beattie (guitar), Irene Duval (violin) and Maciej Kulakowski (cello), Ryan Corbett (accordion) and Dida Condria (piano). 

Other visitors to the festival include BBC New Generation Artist Tom Borrow (piano),  vocal ensemble Siglo de Oro, celebrating the work William Byrd, who died in 1623, Connaught Brass, first prize winners in the inaugural Philip Jones International Brass Ensemble Competition, and Quatuor Agate in Boccherini, Bartok and Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet.

And there is plenty more from talks, walks and other events, one that caught my eye was Polari Salon, a celebration of LGBTQ+ words and voices - whether written, spoken or sung, with Paul Burston, poet Joelle Taylor and Miss Hope Springs.

Full details from the festival website.

This is my body: Figure's imaginative rethinking of Buxtehude's intense sung devotion, Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri - Figure at the Swiss Church
Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri - Figure at the Swiss Church
Dietrich Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri; Figure, Frederic Waxman; The Swiss Church, Covent Garden

Buxtehude's intense seven-cantata sequence reinvented as an imaginatively engaging communal experience

Dietrich Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri is a seven-cantata sequence, described by the composer as a sung devotion, written in 1680 and dedicated to the Swedish organist and composer Gustaf Düben (Buxtehude was himself Swedish) whose collection, now in Uppsala University Library, is an important source for Buxtehude's music. Most of Buxtehude's oratorios do not survive, so Membra Jesu Nostri is an important example of his larger-scale writing. The stanzas of its main text are drawn from the medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare, and each cantata addresses a part of Jesus’ crucified body: feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and face.

It is a strikingly intimate and intense work, one where we have to address its original purpose and how we might perform it nowadays. On Tuesday 14 March 2023, the ensemble Figure, artistic directors Frederick Waxman and Philip Barrett, presented Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri in what might be called a dramatised staging at the Swiss Church in Covent Garden. The five singers were Claire Ward, Katie Macdonald, Tom Lilburn, Michael Bell and Hugo Herman-Wilson accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of Dominika Feher and Emilia Benjamin (violin & treble viol), Emily Ashton (cello & tenor viol), Chris Terepin (bass viol), Kate Brooke (double bass & violone) and Jonatan Bougt (theorbo) directed from the organ by Frederick Waxman. Philip Barrett was the movement directed with lighting by Chris Burr, and animations by Joshua Tabti.

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri - Figure at the Swiss Church
Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri - Figure at the Swiss Church

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Welcome to Cheltenham Music Festival 2023: Music by 40 contemporary composers and the 10th anniversary of the Composers Academy

The Old Courthouse in Cheltenham (Photo: Mark Watkins, from Gloucestershire Live)
The Old Courthouse in Cheltenham, venue for two late-night electronic sets at Cheltenham Music Festival
(Photo: Mark Watkins, from Gloucestershire Live)

This year's Cheltenham Music Festival will feature the world premieres of works by James B Wilson, Soosan Lolavar and Aileen Sweeney plus performances of newly commissioned works by James MacMillan, and Laurence Osborn.

At the opening concert, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra premieres a work by James B Wilson which is a response to Vaughan Williams’s ideas and philosophies in works such as The Lark Ascending. James B Wilson was himself a former participant of Cheltenham’s long-running Composer Academy programme. The concert also features Richard Rodney Bennett's Partita, a work that Bennett described as 'lively and I hope accessible'. It was commissioned by BT in co-operation with the Association of British Orchestras, to be performed by seventeen different orchestras between October 1995 and July 1996!

The Carice Singers, director George Parris, return to the festival to give the world premiere of a work by Soosan Lolavar, as part of a programme inspired by light and luminosity. Laurence Osborn’s TOMB! is a co-commission with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and Kings Place, London, and will be performed by the 12 Ensemble and GBSR Duo in a genre-crossing programme that brings together classical and non-classical music in an exploration of unsettling film soundtracks. James MacMillan’s We Are Collective is a co-commission alongside the Haddo Arts, Sound Festival and Spitalfields Music and will be performed at Cheltenham Music Festival by the Maxwell Quartet in a programme also featuring the quartet’s own arrangements of Scottish folk music.

Byrdwatching is a promenade experience commemorating the 400th anniversary of William Byrd’s death. Musicians from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire take audiences on a tour of Cheltenham’s historic drawing rooms in a series of intimate performances exploring works from Byrd and his contemporaries and beyond – including a newly commissioned work from Composer Academy graduate Aileen Sweeney.

In addition to new commissions and premieres, previous commissions and other contemporary works also feature in the programme. Laura van der Heijden and Jâms Coleman perform Michael Zev Gordon’s Roseland, which premiered at the festival in 2008, and there are works by Thomas Adès, Jonathan Harvey, Cecilia McDowall, Caroline Shaw, Anna Meredith and many more. In all, the programme features work by 40 living composers.

The popular Mixtape concert returns with an evening of relaxed, rule-free classical music at DEYA Taproom, whilst there two innovative late-night electronic sets at The Old Courthouse, an historic venue in the heart of Cheltenham. Laura Cannell combines recorder with electronics to embody the beauty of birdsong in a performance from her latest album, Antiphony of the Trees, and Rakhi Singh’s set features music by Alex Groves, Emily Hall, Edmund Finnis, Nicola Matteis and more.

At the start of the festival, musicians from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra present an interactive musical experience exploring Oliver Jeffers’s The Way Back Home for children aged 4-7, whilst musical storytellers MishMash Ensemble offer 7-11 year-olds and their families a guided exploration of woodwind instruments with five leading players.

The Gloucestershire Youth Chamber Orchestra perform in the Festival’s annual Concert for Schools, aimed at Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils. The concert features engaging storytelling alongside live orchestral music to create an interactive journey through classical music. The following day, the orchestra returns to perform the Relaxed Concert for Schools, an interactive event designed for young people with special educational needs and their caregivers.

2023 marks the 10th year of Cheltenham Music Festival’s Composer Academy, which supports early-career composers who are looking for professional advice and mentorship. Part of the festival’s Spotlight Talent Development programme, young composers aged 18+ will work with director and mentor Daniel Kidane to workshop, perform and record their works with The Carice Singers, culminating in two Composium showcases.

Full details from the festival website.

The Horizons of Doubt: celebrating the BBC Singers celebrating Stephen McNeff

BBC Singers (Photo: BBC)
BBC Singers (Photo: BBC)

It seems horribly apt that the title of Stephen McNeff's new choral piece for the BBC Singers, to be premiered on 24 March 2023, is The Horizons of Doubt! At a time when the BBC Singers future has been effectively cancelled by thoughtless administrators, the ensemble itself continues its sterling work. The concert at Maida Vale Studios on 24 March will feature an all-contemporary programme conducted by Grace Rossiter. The programme is celebrating McNeff's work, performing The Horizons of Doubt (which has a text by Aoife Mannix, the librettist of McNeff's opera, Beyond the Garden), A Half Darkness (written in 2016 for Chamber Choir Ireland), The Starlight Night, The Song of Amergin and Mandy and Milly and Molly and Me, plus music by Kerry Andrew, Siobhán Cleary, Tarik O’Regan, Rhona Clarke, Alan Bullard, Dobrinka Tabakova, and Emily Hazrati.

According to the BBC website, the event is fully booked but fear not, it will feature on BBC Radio 3 at some point, catch them while you can. After all, how many choirs can give two concerts of contemporary music within a week (they perform Knut Nystedt, Sven-David Sandström, Krzysztof Penderecki, Roxanna Panufnik at St Giles Cripplegate on 17/3/2023).

And if you haven't already, please sign the petition at

Imaginative programming, unusual location, exceptional music-making: Nonclassical's The Greenhouse Effect at the Barbican Conservatory

The Greenhouse Effect - Nonclassical at the Barbican Conservatory (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)
The Greenhouse Effect - Nonclassical at the Barbican Conservatory (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)

The Greenhouse Effect
: Gabriel Prokofiev: Tracing Contours, Lines & Planes; Marcus Vergette: Tintinnabulation; Quinta Meltemia; Dasos & Chloris; Andy Akiho: Pillar: No 4; Claudia Molitor: Polymer Hauntings; Steve Reich: Music for pieces of wood; Carola Bauckholt: Doppelbelichtung; David Lang: So Called Laws of Nature ; Nonclassical at the Barbican Conservatory
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders; 12 March 2023

Gripping & immersive soundscapes & percussive grooves in a typically unconventional setting

Since their founding in 2004 by composer and producer Gabriel Prokofiev, London-based Nonclassical has established a reputation for presenting unusual and exciting musical events, and this was no exception. Fantastically well-attended, both the afternoon and evening shows were sold out, a clear indicator not only of the strength of Nonclassical's loyal followers, but also the currently growing appetite for unconventional approaches to contemporary and experimental music.

Nonclassical's event on 12 March 2023 took place in the Barbican Conservatory and featured music by Gabriel Prokofiev, Marcus Vergette, Quinta Meltemia, Andy Akiho, Claudia Molitor, Steve Reich, Carola Bauckholt, and David Lang, performed by percussion ensemble Abstruckt, the London Triangle Orchestra and friends.

In the incredible setting of the Barbican Conservatory – a massive indoor jungle, with layers of brutalist concrete walkways intersecting a spectacular explosion of creepers, vines, palms, banana plants and tropical foliage of all kinds – the various musicians and their instruments were laid out in different locations, as if scattered throughout the rainforest in different clearings. During the performances, it was quite possible to stroll through the pathways and bridges, but the majority of the audience chose to stand or sit nearby the performers, so as to give the music their full attention. To direct these listeners along the paths to each performance, the performers of the London Triangle Orchestra acted as guides, forming an almost-ritualistic procession of people through the jungle from site to site. Made from reclaimed steel ReBar rods, twisted into triangular form, their instruments produced a wide range of timbres, from shimmering bell-like tones, to metallic scraping and grating, composer & organiser Gabriel Prokofiev among the performers of his own piece, Tracing Contours, Lines & Planes for ReBar Triangle. This piece was directly inspired by the architecture and materials of the Barbican Centre itself – something which vividly came across when it was performed in that space.

The Greenhouse Effect - Nonclassical at the Barbican Conservatory (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)
The Greenhouse Effect - Nonclassical at the Barbican Conservatory (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)

Monday, 13 March 2023

Imagination and belief in a hostile climate: new seasons from Welsh National Opera and Opera North

Golijov: Ainadamar - Scottish Opera
Golijov's Ainadamar at Scottish Opera, a production coming to Welsh National Opera
(Photo James Glossop)

New seasons from Welsh National Opera and Opera North. Both WNO and Opera North have released details of forthcoming 2023/24 seasons, and both companies seem determined to make the most of opportunities despite funding cuts and a generally hostile climate for the arts. New productions at WNO will be Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, the company's first-ever production of Britten's Death in Venice, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, and Puccini's Il Trittico. Opera North presents new productions of Verdi's Falstaff, Puccini's La Rondine, a new masque based on Purcell's music, and Rachmaninoff's Aleko, with the company's Autumn season being fully sustainable. 

WNO's Autumn season features Golijov's Ainadamar, in a production shared with Scottish Opera who gave the work's UK premiere last year. Ainadamar is directed by choreographer Deborah Colker and conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, with Argentinian soprano Jaquelina Livieri, Julieth Lozano, and Alfredo Tejada. There is a revival of David McVicar's production of Verdi's La Traviata conducted by Alexander Joel with Olga Pudova, David Junghoon Kim and Mark S Doss. The operas will tour to Cardiff, Llandudno, Bristol, Plymouth, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Southampton.

Opera North's Autumn is devoted to its Green Season, its first fully sustainable season which will use shared scenic elements, designed by Leslie Travers, to create three interlinked yet distinctive designs, enabling Opera North to reduce its use of materials and its carbon footprint. All sets, props and costumes in the season are sourced from previous productions or purchased second-hand. A new production of Verdi's Falstaff is directed by Jo Davies, conducted by Garry Walker with Henry Waddington in the title role. Sir David Pountney has created the Masque of Might using Purcell's music reimagining the 17th-century form of the masque with modern technology to create a biting yet humorous contemporary satire, billed as an ‘eco-entertainment’. The conductor is Harry Bickett with Andri Björn Róbertsson, James Laing and Anna Dennis. Puccini's La Rondine is directed by James Hurley, conducted by Kerem Hasan, with Galina Averina, Claire Lees, Sébastien Guèze and Elgan Llŷr Thomas. The operas will tour to Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Salford.

WNO's Spring season features two new productions. Music director Tomáš Hanus conducts Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, directed by Max Hoehn, with Sophie Bevan, Kayleigh Decker, Egor Zhuravskii and James Atkinson. Olivia Fuchs directs Britten's Death in Venice, conducted by Leo Hussain, with Mark LeBrocq, making his role debut as Aschenbach, Roderick Williams and Alexander Chance. The Spring operas tour to Cardiff, Llandudno, Southampton, Oxford, Bristol and Plymouth.

Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana at Opera North in 2017
Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana at Opera North in 2017
the production is revived in 2024 (Photo Robert Workman)

Opera North's Spring Season features a revival of Giles Havergal's production of Britten's Albert Herring, conducted by Garry Walker with Josephine Barstow as Lady Billows, plus Katie Bray, William Dazeley, Amy Freston, Richard Mosley-Evans, Claire Pascoe, Dominic Sedgwick, and Heather Shipp. Tim Albery's production of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte is revived with Alexandra Lowe, Heather Lowe, Anthony Gregory and Henry Neill as the lovers, conducted by Clemens Schuldt and Chloe Rooke, each making their Opera North debuts. A double bill features a new production of Rachminoff's rarely-performed Aleko, directed by Karolina Sofulak with a revival of her production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, conducted by Antony Hermus. Many of the cast take roles in both works with Robert Hayward, Giselle Allen, Andrés Presno, Elin Pritchard and Anne-Marie Owens. The operas will tour to Leeds, Nottingham, Salford and Hull. 

WNO's Summer seaon features David McVicar's new production of Puccini's Il Trittico which debuts in Scotland this month. The conductor is Carlo Rizzi and the cast includes Justina Gringytė, Vuvu Mpofu, and Alexia Voulgaridou. The production will not tour and is only being performed in Cardiff.

Throughout the year, the WNO Orchestra will be giving a programme of concerts including St David's Hall, and two concert tours, whilst the Orchestra of Opera North will be appearing at the Kirklees Concert Season

More than just a rarity: Tchaikovsky's first surviving opera, Oprichnik, gets a vibrant performance from Chelsea Opera Group

Tchaikovsky, aged 33. Photographed by Alfred Lorenz in Saint Petersburg, January 1874 (Photo Tchaikovsky Research Project)
Tchaikovsky, aged 33 in January 1874 
Photographed by Alfred Lorenz in Saint Petersburg
(Photo Tchaikovsky Research Project)
Tchaikovsky: Oprichnik; Seljan Nasibli, Brian Smith Walters, Yvonne Howard, Stephen Richardson, Nicholas Lester, conductor: James Ham; Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall
Saturday 12 March 2023

Tchaikovsky's first surviving opera in what was surprisingly its English premiere, proves full of colour and drama, with some strong individual performances

Tchaikovsky was fascinated by opera; he started writing around 20 of which nine survive as complete works. We know so very few of them well. His first opera to survive was Oprichnik which debuted in 1874, so comes at the time he was working on his first two symphonies. It was performed in concert by Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh Festival in 1992, which was the work's UK premiere. On Saturday night (11 March 2023) the ever-enterprising Chelsea Opera Group gave Tchaikovsky's Oprichnik its English premiere at Cadogan Hall. James Ham conducted with Seljan Nasibli as Natalya, Brian Smith Walters as Andrey, Yvonne Howard as Andrey's mother, Stephen Richardson as Natalya's father, Elinor Rolfe Johnson as Natalya's maid and Nicholas Lester as Prince Vyazminsky.

The title translates as The Guardsman and refers to Tsar Ivan IV's hated political police. The opera takes place during Ivan's reign under the weight of oppression from the Oprichniks. The libretto is by Tchaikovsky himself, based on an existing historical drama by Ivan Lazhechnikov. This had been written in 1843, but the play was not performed, due to censorship, until 1867 and then repeated during the 1869/1870 season. And by 1870, Tchaikovsky was talking about writing an opera based on the play, though for the first scene, with Natalya and her ladies in the garden, the entire libretto was lifted from Tchaikovsky's earlier, discarded opera, The Voyevoda and there are around seven numbers in Oprichnik which include reworked music from The Voyevoda (see the Tchaikovsky Research Project for details).

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