Saturday 13 July 2024

An intuitive abstract Sudoku working with sound parameters and with no single solution: Chilean composer Aníbal Vidal on writing music

The Brompton Quartet, Aníbal Vidal & Ignacio LusardiMonteverde at recording session for Cuerdas y Rugidos
The Brompton Quartet, Aníbal Vidal & Ignacio LusardiMonteverde at recording session for Cuerdas y Rugidos

Chilean composer Aníbal Vidal released his album, Cuerdas y Rugidos (Strings and Roars), on the Sello Modular label last month. Aníbal is currently on the Britten Sinfonia's Magnum Opus scheme, they premiered a work by him at Milton Court in April and will be premiering another of his works in the Autumn. 

Aníbal Vidal
Aníbal Vidal

The new disc features three of Aníbal's chamber works, Camanchaca - String Quartet No.1 performed by the Brompton Quartet, Unboxing a Music Box - String Quartet No.2 performed by the Alkyona Quartet and Three Chants for assembling an Oboe for oboe and string quartet performed by José Luis Urquieta and ensemble f(r)actura. Aníbal has been writing chamber music for the past three years, he finds you have a more developed exchange with the performer, whereas with orchestral music there is not such a close collaboration. So, exploring a soundscape or musical landscape is far more exciting with a chamber group, though he admits that the recording also makes economic sense.

Camanchaca, his String Quartet No.1, is based on an idea he has had for years. Chile is a seismic country, most people have experienced at least three earthquakes. He has a distinct sound memory of earthquakes, how the houses sound when shaking, and the roars beneath the ground. He experienced the tsunami of 2010 when he was living in a small coastal village and all the fishermen's boats smashed against the breakwater creating a truly memorable sound that he likened to a Titan playing with the boats. In Camanchaca he imagines a peaceful landscape alongside the sound memories of the earthquakes.

Friday 12 July 2024

Nordic Soundscapes: Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s fourth season as principal conductor of the Philharmonia opens with a focus on music, nature and the climate crisis

Nordic Soundscapes: Philharmonia

Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s fourth season as principal conductor of the Philharmonia opens with a season focusing on the relationship between music, nature and the climate crisis from a Nordic perspective, Nordic Soundscapes (26 September to 10 November) with music by Sibelius, Grieg and Nielsen plus seven UK premieres from contemporary Nordic composers, plus Notes on Nature discussions that will delve to the themes of the series.

Things open with something rather special, Sibelius' Kullervo where Rouvali and the Philharmonia are joined by the choir that sang at its premiere back in 1892, the YL Male Voice Choir. There is also Grieg's Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough and the UK premiere of Icelandic composer María Sigfúsdóttir’s Oceans. Rouvali's second concert features the UK premiere of Miho Hazma's What the Wind Brings (she is the Tokyo-born chief conductor of the Danish Radio Big Band), plus Nielsen's Violin Concerto (with Bomsori Kim) and Sibelius' The Oceanides and Symphony No. 3. Sibelius' Violin Concerto features María Dueñas as soloist, with Rouvali conducting a programme that includes the UK premiere of Swedish composer Mats Larsson Gothe's Submarea and Nielsen's Symphony No. 5.

For the Music of Today series, Chloe Rooke conducts the UK premieres of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's Semafor and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen's Two Inger Christensen Song (with soprano Ella Taylor). The Philharmonia Wind Quintet will be performing Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen's Memoria and Nielsen's Wind Quintet.

Emilia Hoving conducts the UK premiere of Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen's Mosaics plus Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, and the final concert in the series features Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski’s Flounce, the UK premiere of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's Viola Concerto (with Lawrence Power) and Sibelius' Symphony No. 1.

Nordic Aurora

There are also concerts outside the theme, Sir Andras Schiff directs the orchestra and is soloist in piano concertos by Haydn and Mozart, plus Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Marin Alsop conducts an all Mahler programme mixing the music of Gustav with that of Alma. Rouvali conducts Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian including his Violin Concerto with Nemanja Radulović.

Full details from the Philharmonia's website.

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Our June newsletter has landed

 

Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - Adam Temple-Smith, Michael Mofidian - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - Adam Temple-Smith, Michael Mofidian - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

June on Planet Hugill: Holland Park, the Grange, Aldeburgh, Glyndebourne and beyond.

Our latest newsletter has landed on MadMimi and on LinkedIn.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Scots Opera Project team up for Scottish Gaelic & Scots Language version of 'Dido and Aeneas'

Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Scots Opera Project team up for Scottish Gaelic & Scots Language version of 'Dido and Aeneas'

Now this is intriguing. Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Scots Opera Project are teaming up for a production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in an exciting new Scottish Gaelic and Scots Language version! David Douglas directs with a Scots translation by Dr Michael Dempster and Gaelic translation by Marcas Mac an Tuairneir. And no, I'm not clear how they plan to make the mix of languages work, but Scots Opera Project debuted this version in 2018 and in 2019, was nominated for both a Scots Language and a Scottish Gaelic Award for Dido and Aeneas.

The outdoor performances run at Pitlochry Festival Theatre from 31 August to 15 September, and will feature a professional cast including Kilmarnock-based tenor David Douglas, Perthshire based soprano Coleen Nicoll, Edinburgh based Northern Irish soprano Emma Morwood, Glasgow based baritone Colin Murray and Stirling based Austrian mezzo-soprano Ulrike Wutscher, and community chorus. 

In 2022, Scots Opera Project gave the Scottish premiere of Granville Bantock and Marjory Kennedy-Fraser’s The Seal-Woman.

Further details from the Pitlochry Festival Theatre's website.

A glorious diversity: Temple Music Foundations 2024/25 season with everything from medieval French song & Arabic poetry to Benjamin Britten & James MacMillan

Temple Church
Temple Church

The Temple Music Foundation's 2024/25 season offers the opportunity to hear a diverse range of music in a variety of spaces in and around Temple. Things kick off with Siren Duo (Claire Wickes, flute and Tomos Xerri, harp) in the intimate confines of Middle Temple Library with an imaginative programme themed around fire and water including music by Mozart (from the flute and harp concerto), Debussy, Piazzolla (from Histoire du Tango), William Alwyn (evoking the rivers and reedbeds of Suffolk), Toru Takemitsu (inspired by Melville's Moby Dick), David Watkins, and Adina Izarra. We move to the glorious spaces of Temple Church for a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 with Harry Christophers conducting the Sixteen.

One highlight of the season must be tenor James Way's recital with pianist Julius Drake and horn player Richard Watkins. Their exploration of music for tenor, horn and piano includes Schubert's wonderful, and relatively little done, Auf dem Strom, Britten's The Heart of the Matter (his expansion of his Edith Sitwell setting, Still falls the rain) and the premiere of James MacMillan's Duet for Horn and Piano, along with music by Schumann, and Poulenc.

Using the Round Church rather than the regular nave of Temple Church, Siglo de Oro, director Patrick Allies, will be collaborating with actors and readers, and scholars from the UKRI-funded Musical Lives project to bring together performance of medieval French songs, Arabic poetry and Latin charters with narration evoking the world of medieval knight, William Marshal (d.1219 and buried in Temple Church).

Thomas Allery will be direction the Temple Youth Choir which consists of young singers from across London, including choral scholars and former choristers of the Temple Church, coming together for their annual concert for Remembrance. This year they are performing Fauré's Requiem in the year of the centenary of his death.

At the beginning of December, music at Temple is devoted to the Winter Festival which features a variety of events including Mark Padmore and Julius Drake in Schubert's Winterreise, Onyx Brass in music from Monteverdi and Bach to Imogen Holst and Emily Hall, an organ recital from Danish organist Hanne Kuhlman in music from Bach and Krebs to Karg-Elert and more, the Sacconi Quartet in Ravel, Mendelssohn and Roxanna Panufnik, the choir of Merton College in carols and anthems for Advent, and Thomas Allery directing Temple Church Choir and Temple Players in Handel's Messiah with soloists Jessica Cale, Rebecca Leggett, Stuart Jackson and Christopher Purves.

Full details from the Temple Music website.

Summer in Vienna: Jesus Leon's Vienna Opera Festival returns with two Mozart stagings

Vienna Opera Festival 2023
Vienna Opera Festival 2023

Despite its name, the Vienna Opera Festival (Wiener Festpiele) was only founded in 2019 by tenor Jesus Leon with music director Toby Purser. The festival puts on a Summer season (mid-July to the end of August) in venues such as Mozarthaus Vienna and the Musikverein. The same team runs the Vienna Opera Academy which offers an opera programme and assistant conductor programme, and the festival takes its soloists from the academy, and has its own orchestra.

This year's festival features stagings of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, conducted by Daniel Hoyem Cavazza and Don Giovanni conducted by Toby Purser, along with opera highlights concerts featuring music by Mozart and Verdi. 

Performing whilst the Vienna State Opera and Volksoper are closed for the Summer, the festival provides an opportunity for a weekend of Summer opera in Vienna along with supporting dynamic young artists.

Full details from the festival website.

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Age 15 to 18, love music and wondering what to do next? The Benedetti Foundation launches its free Youth Ambassador Programme

Benedetti Foundation workshop (Photo:  Jamie Williamson)
Benedetti Foundation workshop (Photo:  Jamie Williamson)

The Benedetti Foundation is launching a new free Youth Ambassador Programme for 15 to 18-year-olds across the UK. 

Open to singers and instrumentalists, it is aimed at anyone of this age who is passionate about music and sharing it with the world. It will offer an insight into what a career in music could look like. 

The first course takes place from Monday 9 September to Friday 13 December 2024, with a range of activities to help participants explore a future in music. 

  • Explore different careers in the Arts and see what it’s like to work in the music industry from various angles
  • Learn to teach and start developing your own teaching style
  • Get creative and discover new ways to express yourself through performance
  • Focus on wellbeing and understanding how to balance mental and physical health with musical workload
  • Meet other young, passionate musicians, join mentor sessions, attend inspiring talks with leading professionals and participate in online and in-person activities
  • Gain hands-on experience and make connections

There will be mentoring, talks from educators, musicians on performance skills, information about handling performing anxieties and nerves, and interactions with a range of industry professionals from different areas of the arts world, along with hands on experience including delivering workshops in primary schools and participating in mass string-playing days.

Further information from the Benedetti Foundation website, along with the application form.
 

£750,000 and counting: the Continuo Foundation opens its 8th grant round for applications

One of the many creative projects by the Continuo Foundation's grantee ensembles - This is my Body from Figure Ensemble at the Swiss Church (Photo: Nick Rutter)
One of the many creative projects by the Continuo Foundation's grantee ensembles - This is my Body from Figure Ensemble at the Swiss Church - see my review (Photo: Nick Rutter)

Since its creation in September 2020, the Continuo Foundation has awarded £750,000 to nearly 100 period-instrument ensembles, supporting 170 creative projects, initiatives which have benefited over 1,000 freelance musicians and reached more than 180,000 audience members in 180 UK locations and online [see my 2022 interview with founder, Tina Vadaneaux].

The foundation has now opened is 8th grant round for applications. It is accepting applications for funding Early Music concerts, tours and other artistic projects taking place between November 2024 and April 2025, anywhere in the UK. As in previous rounds, the funding available in this eighth grant round amounts to £100,000.

Proposals from both established and emerging ensembles (formed since 2020) are being welcomed and will be evaluated based on artistic quality, audience reach, and long-term impact. At least 20% of the funds will be directed to support recently formed groups, underlining the foundationʼs commitment to fostering emerging talent.

While its grants are focused on period instrument ensembles, Continuo Foundation has expanded its support to all UK-based professional early music artists, including vocal ensembles, through its Continuo Connect digital platform, which offers comprehensive concert listings for over 150 artists and 50 festivals.

Full details from the Continuo Foundation's website.

Monday 8 July 2024

Youth, experience and a warm reception: our visit to the Glasperlenspiel Festival in Tartu, Estonia

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 - Hans Christian Aavik, Neeme Järvi, Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta - Glasperlenspiel Festival at St John's Church, Tartu
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 - Hans Christian Aavik, Neeme Järvi, Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta - Glasperlenspiel Festival at St John's Church, Tartu

Named for Hermann Hesse's last full-length novel, Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game), the Glasperlenspiel Festival in Estonia is just two year shy of its 30th birthday. Founded in 1996 by composer Peeter Vähi and producer Tiina Jokinan, the festival fills St John's Church in Tartu with music for a long weekend every July. This year the festival runs from 4 to 9 July, with eleven events spread across the six days.

St John's Church dates from the 14th century and is notable for its brick construction and the enormous number of terracotta statues that featured on the exterior; there were originally over a thousand and some 200 survive. The church was badly damaged by fire in World War Two and left semi-derelict for some 50 years before being restored in the 1990s, creating a handsome wooden-roofed interior with a very fine and sympathetic acoustic.

This year's festival line-up includes Gidon Kremer (violin) and Stathis Karapanos (flute) with Kremerata Baltica in music by Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schubert, Grazyna Bacewicz and Sofia Guubaidulina; the Swiss ensemble Aventura Barocca with Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Amir in a programme mixing Baroque music with that of the Middle East; the Estonian vocal ensemble, Vox Clamantis, directed by Jaan-Eik Tulve in a programme of Gregorian chant dedicated to St John the Baptist, including the Tournai Mass; the contemporary ethnic music group Zetod in a programme of  music from Setoland; Quatuor Akilone from France in Mozart, Boccherini and Arriaga; the Estonia National Male Choir in music by Estonian composer Rein Rannap; the New Baltic Sound Quartet (violin, cello, and two percussion) in contemporary programme with an Estonian cast to it including one of Peeter Vähi's pieces; the Lithuanain ensemble Musica Humana

And tucked away in the late-night slot on Friday 5 July, Ben Vonberg-Clark (tenor), Jonathan Eyers (baritone) and Nigel Foster (piano) in Out of the Shadows, the programme of my vocal music that we originally premiered in February 2023. The church's acoustic proved ideal for vocal music, and the audience, which mixed festival regulars with visitors including some from the Estonian LGBTQ community, gave the music a really warm reception.

Robert Hugill: Out of the Shadows - Nigel Foster, Ben Vonberg-Clark, Jonathan Eyers - Glasperlenspiel Festival at St John's Church, Tartu
Robert Hugill: Out of the Shadows - Nigel Foster, Ben Vonberg-Clark, Jonathan Eyers
Glasperlenspiel Festival at St John's Church, Tartu
We were lucky enough to be able to catch the festival's opening concert when a packed house heard veteran Estonian-born conductor Neeme Järvi conducting the Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta in a programme of Haydn, Mozart and Albinoni including Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major with Estonian violinist Hans Christian Aavik. The evening might easily have been called youth and experience, the soloist is 26 and Maestro Järvi is 87. On this showing, Järvi's music making is as vital as ever and he seemed to have a warmly responsive relationship with the orchestra and with the soloist.

Things began with Haydn's Serenade for Strings, Op.3 No. 5 which showcased the sinfonietta's light and delicate sound, almost aetherial at times, full of elegance and style with the acoustic lending the sound a lovely clarity. In the violin concerto, Hans Christian Aavik played with lithe elegance and a graceful clarity of sound. He created a fine sense of long-breathed line and seemed to have responsively enjoyable relationship with Järvi, the pair's sheer enjoyment of the music conveying itself in the performance. After the interval, Albinoni's Adagio in G, where the sound quality had an almost suave elegance to it. We ended with Mozart's Symphony No. 29, with sprightly vivacity in the first movement, graceful transparency in the second and ending with fast finale that was full of engaging energy. There was an encore, Boccherini's Minuet.

Next year's festival runs from 10 to 15 July 2025, and will feature the Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta, the European Union Baroque Orchestra, Weiner Kammersymphonie and Kremerata Baltic, a return from Hans Christian Aavik with his piano trio, plus Estonian composer Märt-Matis Lill.

Sunday 30 June 2024

Sustainable Opera for the Future by Max Parfitt of Wild Arts

Donizetti: The Elixir of Love - James Atkinson - Wild Arts 2023 (Photo: Lucy J Toms)
Donizetti: The Elixir of Love - James Atkinson - Wild Arts 2023 (Photo: Lucy J Toms)

We humans, alone on earth, are powerful enough to create worlds, and then to destroy them. But we have one more thing – an ability, perhaps unique among the living creatures on the planet – to imagine a future and work towards achieving it.

- David Attenborough

The arts industry is aware of the environmental threat that we are under. Any good art has to be. Art should reflect present times and issues, even while celebrating the genius of the past. Environmental and social activism (successful or otherwise) is what will define this generation in years to come.

Productions have frequently been tilted towards environmental themes – see anything from Opera North’s Masque of Might [see Robert's review], to Barry Kosky’s staging of Das Rheingold at Covent Garden – there is something inherently operatic about the grand forces (light and dark, good and evil, man and nature) that such ideas invoke. Wild Arts’ Summer Opera this year, directed by James Hurley, is Mozart's The Magic Flute – a tale of enlightenment conquering the forces of nature, order (and civilisation) asserting itself over chaos. Though our production is set in a more fantastical world than our own, there is nonetheless a lingering question for any modern-day audience: as Sarastro triumphs and the forces of nature are crushed, are our heroes on the right side? Can the powerful final chorus be quite so celebratory when we know the consequences of the society it lauds? Done well, these lines of environmental commentary can bring an extra depth to their productions without crowbarring messaging irrelevant to the original material.

What does an opera world look like which is entirely sustainable?   What are the parameters we should be striving towards?   What do we all need to consider?   How should we be shaping the future.   

Saturday 29 June 2024

As vivid and vigorous as ever: David McVicar's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare returns to Glyndebourne with a terrific young cast

Handel: Giulio Cesare - Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Louise Alder - Glyndebourne, 2024 (Photo: © Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Giulio Cesare - Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Louise Alder - Glyndebourne, 2024 (Photo: © Richard Hubert Smith)

Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto; Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Louise Alder, Beth Taylor, Svetlina Stoyanova, Cameron Shahbazi, director: David McVicar, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Cummings; Glyndebourne
28 June 2024

Nearly 20 years old, McVicar's iconic production returns as vivid and vibrant as ever, with superb performances from a young cast

Amazingly, David McVicar's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne will be 20 years old next year. It debuted in 2005, with Sarah Connolly and Danielle de Niese, returning in 2006 (with David Daniels and Danielle de Niese) and in 2009 (with Sarah Connolly and Danielle de Niese). Now, after something of a gap, it is back as vivid and vigorous as ever with a young new cast.

We caught the second performance of the 2024 revival of David McVicar's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne on Friday 28 June 2024. Giulio Cesare was Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen [who was David in Handel's Saul at Komische Oper Berlin in 2023, see my review], Cleopatra was Louise Alder [who sang the title role on Arcangelo's recent recording of Handel's Theodora, see my review], Cornelia was Beth Taylor, Sesto was Svetlina Stoyanova [who was Ruggiero in Handel's Alcina at Glyndebourne in 2022, see my review], Tolomeo was Cameron Shahbazi [who was Hamor in Handel's Jephtha at Covent Garden in 2023, see my review] and Achilla was Luca Tittoto [who sang Saul at the Komische Oper], with Thomas Chenhall as Curio and Ray Chenez as Nireno. Laurence Cummings conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Sets were by Robert Jones, costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, choreography by Andrew George.

The production takes an admirably expansive view of what is actually a very long opera with a first act lasting just shy of 90 minutes and, correctly, two intervals, none of the arias is trimmed, Nireno got his aria and Achilla got both of his. The second interval is, however, placed after Cleopatra's 'Se pietà', with the scene for Tolomeo, Cornelia, Sesto and Achilla opening the third part.

Handel: Giulio Cesare - Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen - Glyndebourne, 2024 (Photo: © Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Giulio Cesare - Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen - Glyndebourne, 2024 (Photo: © Richard Hubert Smith)

The production sets the action in the context of the British Raj, which gives a firm underpinning for the drama without the need for extensive back history, though Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes, particularly for Cleopatra are rather more playful. Robert Jones' sets might seem lavish but they are enormously responsive and scene changes happened smoothly and easily, with no awkward waits and only a couple of uses of the drop curtain. This has the admirable effect of allowing Handel's drama to flow exactly as it ought. Cleopatra's scene in Act Two where she is supposed to appear enthroned with the muses really did feature the nine musicians on stage, which is something opera companies rarely attempt nowadays, and McVicar keeps largely to the work's dramaturgy so that exit arias were largely that.

Whilst McVicar does present Handel and his librettist Nicola Haym's drama pretty much as they intended, McVicar also takes the view that opera seria as a genre is something that needs help if it is to live theatrically. He does this by leavening the drama with humour, the use of the chorus and actors has a stylised sense of the comic to it and choreographer Andrew George's movement generally had a lightening, leavening effect. Also, in the moments of unfortunate coincidence or suspension of disbelief, to which opera seria is rather prone, if the production did not actually encourage a laugh, it was rather expected. That said, within this playfulness, the characters are taken seriously and their emotions are never lightened.

Expressionism and rigour: soprano Claire Booth on recording Pierrot Lunaire and the importance of exploring Schoenberg's songs

Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire - Claire Booth & Nash Ensemble at Aldeburgh Festival, 2024 (Photo: Marcus Roth (c) Britten Pears Arts)
Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire - Claire Booth & Nash Ensemble at Aldeburgh Festival, 2024 (Photo: Marcus Roth (c) Britten Pears Arts)

Soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn have previous when it comes to focusing on composers whose songs deserve to be better known. Recent forays into this repertoire have led them to deep dives into songs by Percy Grainger, Folk Music, Edvard Grieg, Lyric Music, and Modest Mussorgsky, Unorthodox Music. Now they are repeating this with Expressionist Music on Orchid Classics, a disc that explores Schoenberg's songs beyond that handful that people feel obliged to perform.

Claire Booth (Photo: Sven Arnstein)
Claire Booth (Photo: Sven Arnstein)

This year is, of course, the 150th anniversary of Arnold Schoenberg's birth, and Claire is devoting quite a bit of time to the composer. This is not new, she has performed Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire since taking part in a performance directed by Pierre Boulez shortly after she left college and Pierrot Lunaire features on another disc with Ensemble 360 that is being released on Onyx Classics in September, and she will be performing the work several times including at the Aldeburgh Festival [see Tony's review]. But her musical life extends beyond Schoenberg and this year she is also performing new works by Zoë Martlew and Helen Grime which Claire has commissioned.

Schoenberg's song-writing spans much of his career from the early 1890s to the 1930s, so they vary in style from his late romantic works to free atonality to twelve-tone. In Expressionist Music, Claire and Christopher Glynn perform songs from his Opus 2 (1899), Opus 3 (1899/1903), Brettl-Lieder (1901), Opus 6 (1903/1905), Opus 12 (1906), Opus 14 (1907/1908), Opus 48 (1933) as well as something from Gurrelieder (1901/1911).

As she points out, some of these songs are known and occasionally performed, but the name of the composer and his reputation seems to prevent performers and promoters from exploring further. With his 150th anniversary, it feels super-important to Claire to be performing his music and she confessed herself somewhat surprised that festivals have not been showcasing his music more.

Her and Christopher Glynn's booklet note explains their thinking, "the inescapable truth is that a century on, Schoenberg is still not box office. But for anyone who believes that Schoenberg is cold, cerebral and unapproachable, we can only say this: try the songs. Having explored every single one of them (as we did over a few intense days one summer), it’s impossible not to be struck by just how much magnificent music there is to discover, and that is what we have tried to celebrate in this recital."

Friday 28 June 2024

The Northern Chamber Orchestra goes on tour with Mozart and much more besides in the new season in Macclesfield

Northern Chamber Orchestra (Photo: Sara Porter, 2022)
Northern Chamber Orchestra (Photo: Sara Porter, 2022)

The theme of Mozart on Tour threads its way through the Northern Chamber Orchestra's 2024/25 season of concerts in Macclesfield (largely but not exclusively at The King's School). But it isn't just Mozart, with a season featuring works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, John Adams, George Walker, Schnittke, and Judith Weir

The season opens with Mozart in Paris with Ellie Slorach conducting Symphony No.13 (Paris) and the Requiem with Manchester Chamber choir. Then in December focus moves to Linz for Mozart's Symphony No. 36 (Linz) directed by Katie Stillman in a concert that also includes Raphael Wallfisch in Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations and music by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. In Vienna, we get Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 with Benedict Holland directing with soloist Jeneba-Kanneh Mason plus Symphony No. 35 (Haffner) plus music by John Adams and George Walker. And the season ends in Prague with Zoe Beyers directing Mozart's Symphony No. 38 (Prague) plus Haydn's Symphony No.45 (‘Farewell’), Schnittke's Moz-Art a la Haydn and Judith Weir's Still, Glowing.

Other concerts feature Philip Herbert's Elegy (In Memoriam Stephen Lawrence), Jennifer Pike in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, Caplet's Suite Persane, Shostakovich, Neilsen, Bruckner, Jessie Montgomery and much else besides.

Full details from the orchestra's website.

Something of a minor revelation: choral music by Giovanni Bononcini who was brought to England as Handel's operatic rival

How are the mighty fallen: Choral music by Giovanni Bononcini; Rowan Pierce, Esther Lay, Helen Charlston, Guy Cutting, Giles Underwood, Choir of Queen's College, Oxford, Academy of Ancient Music, Owen Rees; Signum Classics

How are the mighty fallen: Choral music by Giovanni Bononcini; Rowan Pierce, Esther Lay, Helen Charlston, Guy Cutting, Giles Underwood, Choir of Queen's College, Oxford, Academy of Ancient Music, Owen Rees; Signum Classics
25 June 2024

Known as a rival to Handel, Bononcini wrote far more than Italian opera and this disc of his choral music written in England is something of a minor revelation

Giovanni Bononcini is best known in the UK today as Handel's rival who finally retired the scene after plagiarism scandal, leaving the way open for Handel. Bononcini arrived in London in 1720 to join Handel in the Royal Academy of Music as part of a group of composers responsible for creating opera. Bononcini was around from 1720 until 1732 when, indeed, there was a plagiarism scandal. But he was already well known in the city.

His opera Camilla (based on his 1696 opera Il trionfio di Camilla) with a new English text was so popular that it had 111 or 112 performances from 1706 to 1728, making it the most popular and successful work of its period, after The Beggar's Opera.  Some of these were with adapted music but others were with Bononcini's original score. And when he finally arrived in London, his operas, including Griselda from 1722, often rivalled Handel's for popularity. Bononcini had a knack for creating graceful, elegant and appealing melodies. In the later 1720s his operatic output decreased following his appointment as director of the private concerts of the Duchess of Marlborough.

But this new disc from the Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford, the Academy of Ancient Music, conductor Owen Rees, with soloists Rowan Pierce, Esther Lay, Helen Charlston, Guy Cutting and Giles Underwood on Signum Classics invites us to explore a different side to Bononcini. Owen Rees presents a programme of the composer's sacred music, Ave maris stella, Te Deum, Laudate pueri and When Saul was King.

Thursday 27 June 2024

1-2-3 Mendelssohn: the Engegård Quartet and friends celebrate the music of Felix and Fanny at their festival in Oslo

1-2-3 Mendelssohn: the Engegård Quartet and friends celebrate the music of Felix and Fanny at their festival in Oslo

If you fancy an Autumn weekend in Norway, then the Engegård Quartet is offering a deep dive into the chamber music and songs of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.

The Engegård Quartet [whom we heard recently at Conway Hall, see my review] has a tradition of holding single-composer mini-festivals in its home town of Oslo in Norway and this year, the festival is devoted to the Mendelssohns, Felix and Fanny. 1-2-3 Mendelssohn takes place at Nynorskens hus in Oslo from 8 to 10 November. The Engegård Quartet will be joined by an array of friends including the Elias String Quartet, mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, pianist Ariel Lanyi, film maker Sheila Hayman, The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s Boys Choir and Nordberg String Orchestra, for a weekend of events focusing on the music of the two composers.

The opening concert features chamber music and lieder, including Fanny's masterpiece, Piano Trio in D minor and Felix's String Quintet No. 1, plus a piano duet version of the famous Wedding March. Saturday begins with a cafe concert devoted to songs without words, then in the afternoon it is the music both wrote in childhood including a performance of one of Felix's early string symphonies performed by young people and both quartets in Felix's Octet. And youth has it in the evening as the boys choir is joined by young people from Barratt Due Junior Ensemble with works including Hear my prayer and the cantata Verleih uns frieden.

Sunday morning sees music by both siblings performed by young people and woven into a story about Felix and Fanny. There is an afternoon salon concert featuring chamber music and songs, then the Norwegian premiere of Sheila Hayman's film Fanny: The Other Mendlessohn, and the festival closes with another feast of chamber music and song, including Ariel Lanyi in Felix's Fantasie in F sharp minor and the event concludes with the audience being invited to join in Hark the Herald Angels Sing! which has music adapted from Mendelssohn's Gutenberg Cantata.

Full details from the festival website.

And looking further ahead, if you fancy a December trip to Oslo, then the Engegård Quartet is collaborating with actress Gjertrud Jynge and visual artist Marianne Heske for A Shining Darkness at Norwegian Opera. This is a stage adaptation, by Gjertrud Jynge, of Jon Fosse's novel Septology which will feature chamber music ranging from old to modern and from popular to sacred, and a video painting by visual artist Marianne Heske visually accompanies the performance.

Details from Norwegian Opera's website.

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Help support Brixton Chamber Orchestra in offering communities living in Lambeth’s housing estates the opportunity to come together to enjoy an uplifting musical experience

Brixton Chamber Orchestra's Summer Estates Tour 2023
Brixton Chamber Orchestra's Summer Estates Tour 2023
One of Brixton Chamber Orchestra's central tenets is a belief that that orchestral music should be at the centre of society, reaching people in their own community, and that everyone, regardless of circumstance, should have access. 

To this end, since December 2018, the orchestra has given regular Estates Tours around Lambeth, bringing a 30-piece orchestra to perform varied programmes free across estates in Lambeth with both a Christmas tour and a Summer Estates tour. 

This year's Summer Estates Tour takes place over two weekends - 19 - 28 July, with 11 estate shows and a workshop and performance at Jubilee Primary School, with 2000+ expected to attend! The project offers communities living in Lambeth’s housing estates the opportunity to come together to enjoy an uplifting musical experience free to all in the community. We bring shared community spaces to life with live music and offers regular exposure to live performances in many different genres with a variety of instruments. Many of the audiences have never been to an orchestral concert before.

Summer Tour performances take place outdoors, in grassy gardens or in the amphitheatre-like central spaces on estates surrounded by balconied tower blocks. Where possible, performances are integrated into residents’ existing events, with the whole community coming together in celebration. 

Brixton Chamber Orchestra's Summer Estates Tour 2023
Brixton Chamber Orchestra's Summer Estates Tour 2023

The events are all free and the orchestra relies on external funding to help cover the costs. Unfortunately for this Summer Tour the orchestra did not receive the expected funding from one of the organisations that has supported these tours for the last 4 years, so despite best forward-planning and funding strategy, the tour is vulnerable to cancellation.

The orchestra has created a Go Fund Me page to help cover some of the costs, please do support.

The five BBC orchestras join up with Young Sounds UK for a national mentoring programme for 15-17 year-olds

BBC and Young Sounds UK Exchange programme in 2022 (Photo: BBC)
BBC and Young Sounds UK Exchange programme in 2022 (Photo: BBC)

The five BBC orchestras - the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra - are joining up with Young Sounds UK (formerly Awards for Young Musicians) for a national mentoring programme for 15-17 year-olds across the UK. 

Beginning in September this year, the project will connect with the young people at pivotal points in their lives, preparing for music college or university or making decisions about career options. Twenty-four 15-17 year-olds, all of whom have won an award with Young Sounds UK, will be matched with a BBC musician for six mentoring sessions. They will gain access to music experiences across the BBC with their mentors acting as a role model, guide and advocate. Representatives from each of the BBC Orchestras will be taking part, ensuring young people across the UK have access to the programme.

The partnership builds on the success of the 2022 BBC and Young Sounds UK Exchange programme pilot, which brought young people together with musicians from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Now the partnership includes all of the BBC orchestras and there will be opportunities to learn alongside the teams at Radio 3, BBC Audio and BBC Proms, highlighting careers and opportunities beyond the stage. 

Young Sounds UK has four main programmes aimed at removing the financial barriers and other obstacles that prevent young people getting into music, and helping realise their potential once they’re on their way. The charity began life as as The Musicas Fund in 1998, established from the sale proceeds of Robert Lewin’s collection of stringed instruments, bows and books. This would later become Awards for Young Musicians before becoming Young Sounds UK. 

Further details from the Young Sounds UK website.

The 75th edition of the Aldeburgh Festival rounded off with a rare visit to East Anglia of the celebrated Hallé Orchestra.

Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire - Claire Booth, the Nash Ensemble - Aldeburgh Festival (Photo: Marcus Roth, (c) Britten Pears Arts)
Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire - Claire Booth, the Nash Ensemble - Aldeburgh Festival (Photo: Marcus Roth, (c) Britten Pears Arts)

Schoenberg: Pierrot lunaire, Beethoven, Julian Anderson, Judith Weir, Mozart; Claire Booth, The Nash Ensemble, Martyn Brabbins; Aldeburgh Festival at Britten Studio
Britten: Curlew River; Ian Bostridge, Duncan Rock, Peter Brathwaite, Willard White, Matthew Jones, Deborah Warner, Audrey Hyland; Aldeburgh Festival at Blythburgh Church
Britten: Suite from Death in Venice, Mahler: Symphony No. 5; The Hallé, cond. Sir Mark Elder; Aldeburgh Festival
Reviewed by Tony Cooper (25 June 2024)

This year’s Aldeburgh Festival has reached new limits with a roster of excellent concerts and recitals not least by the tasteful musical feast served up for the last weekend. 

A cycle of 50 poems, Pierrot lunaire was published in 1884 by Belgian author, Albert Giraud (born Emile Albert Kayenbergh in Leuven in 1860) closely associated with the Symbolist Movement who wrote poems in French. The protagonist of the cycle, Pierrot - the moonstruck and fantastical clown who wears a mask to hide one’s true feelings - is the well-loved comic servant and ‘outsider’ of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte theatrical tradition. Early 19th century Romantics, such as Théophile Gautier, were drawn to him by his Chaplinesque pluckiness and pathos.  

Therefore, remarkable in many respects, Giraud’s collection is among the most densely and imaginatively sustained works in the ‘Pierrot’ canon which attracted the attention of an unusually high number of composers but it’s Schoenberg’s setting that’s the most renowned and widely considered one of the landmark masterpieces of 20th-century music. Although the composition is atonal, it’s not written in the twelve-tone technique that Schoenberg developed (and favoured) in his later years. 

The commission came from Albertine Zehme, a chanteuse married to a Leipzig lawyer, asking Schoenberg to set a lecture text to music. Completely free in the selection of poems, his choice was, of course, the French cycle of poems of Pierrot lunaire by Giraud translated by Otto Erich Hartleben. Selecting 21 poems from the cycle, Schoenberg duly divided them into three distinctive groups: in the first (Drunk on the Moon, Colombine, The Dandy, A Pale Washerwoman, Valse de Chopin, Madonna, The Sick Moon Pierrot) Pierrot sings of love, sex and religion; in the second (Night, Prayer to Pierrot, Robbery, Red Mass, Gallows Song, Beheading, The Crosses) he sings of violence, crime and blasphemy; in the third (Homesickness, Foul Play, Parody, The Spot on the Moon, Serenade, Journey Home, O Ancient Fragrance) Pierrot dreams of returning home to Bergamo with his past haunting him. 

At the work’s première in 1912, the ensemble comprised Albertine Zehme (voice) with Hans W. de Vries (flute), Karl Essberger (clarinet), Jakob Malinjak (violin), Hans Kindler (cello) and Eduard Steuermann (piano). According to Anton Webern, the première was a great success for performers and Schoenberg but received a bad press although most of the audience, fascinated by the new sounds, responded reasonably well to the performance overall.  

Britten: Curlew River - Aldeburgh Festival (Photo: Marcus Roth, (c) Britten Pears Arts)
Britten: Curlew River - Aldeburgh Festival (Photo: Marcus Roth, (c) Britten Pears Arts)

But Pierrot lunaire at the Rudolfinum, Prague, on 24 February 1913, caused uproar and mayhem with the audience becoming one of Schoenberg’s most frightening and traumatic experiences which he remembered for the rest of his life, leading him to demand guarantees for trouble-free performances at further ‘Pierrot’ concerts. The première of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the Theatre du Champs-Élysées, Paris, appeared two months after Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, widely considered the most notorious scandal in the history of music, mirrors the same scenario. 

Thankfully, no one had angst or anger etched into their faces at the Aldeburgh Festival in such a brilliant and effortless performance delivered by Claire Booth with the performance nicely sandwiched between Thursday’s Solstice (20 June) and Saturday’s Full Moon (22 June) and coinciding, too, with the anniversary of Peter Pears’ birthday. Heard in the intimacy and comfort of the Britten Studio (ideal for works such as Pierrot lunaire) the players of The Nash Ensemble - Philippa Davies (flute), Richard Hosford (clarinet), Benjamin Nabarro (violin), Lars Anders Tomter (viola), Adrian Brendel (cello) and Alasdair Beatson (piano) - were found on top form. Are they ever off it? 

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Youthfully engaging: a visually stylish new Rake's Progress at the Grange Festival made us really care for about these characters

Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - Adam Temple-Smith, Michael Mofidian - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - Adam Temple-Smith, Michael Mofidian - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress; Adam Temple-Smith, Alexandra Oomens, Michael Mofidian, Rosie Aldridge, director: Antony McDonald, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Tom Primrose; The Grange Festival
23 June 2024

A combination of moral directness and engagingly youthful character gave this performance of Stravinsky's opera a particular charm

After English Touring Opera's recent eclectic production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress [see my review], I found myself in a lively discussion with friends over the importance of an 18th-century frame of reference for the opera; Stravinsky's music, though eclectic in its sources, includes an element of 18th-century classical style to it, so does this mean that we need to reference this in the visuals?

Acting both as designer and director, Antony McDonald seems to have answered a resounding 'Yes' to this question in his new production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress which opened at The Grange Festival on Sunday 23 June 2024. Tom Primrose (the festival's former chorus master) conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with Adam Temple-Smith as Tom, Alexandra Oomens as Anne, Michael Mofidian as Nick, Rosie Aldridge as Baba, Darren Jeffery as Father Trulove, John Graham-Hall as Sellem, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Mother Goose and Armand Rabot as the Keeper of the Madhouse. Lighting was by Peter Mumford and movement by Lucy Burge

Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - Alexandra Oomens - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - Alexandra Oomens - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

McDonald's costumes were firmly 18th century and that was the visual frame of reference for the sets, yet there was a pared-back elegance to the designs. Everything took place in a fixed box with tiled walls that we came to understand was going to be the set for the madhouse. Each scene had enough elements to develop character but not overwhelm. The first scene revealed Adam Temple-Smith and Alexandra Oomens sitting under a (painted) tree that evoked a Gainsborough portrait, yet with flying cattle. Mother Goose's featured two geese on the walls and Last Supper-like table, whilst Tom's residence had an elaborate bed and little else. The visuals were neither eclectic nor overwhelming, yet their expressive elegance told strongly. McDonald's handling of the chorus was highly visual to , with their scenes arranged into strikingly effective, stylised tableaux.

Monday 24 June 2024

It’s important to acknowledge that Die Fledermaus is a fundamentally ‘sexy’ opera: Jonny Danciger on his new production for St Paul's Opera

Strauss's Die Fledermaus in rehearsal with Olivia Singleton, Ashley Mercer, Meliza Metzger - St Paul's Opera
Strauss's Die Fledermaus in rehearsal with Olivia Singleton (Adele), Ashley Mercer (Frank), Meliza Metzger (Ida) - St Paul's Opera

On 4 July 2024, my local opera company St Paul's Opera debuts their 2024 main production, Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus at St Paul's Church, Clapham. The opera is directed by Johnny Danciger with George Ireland conducting an instrumental ensemble with Dominic Westwood as Alfred, Olivia Singleton as Adele, Rusne Tuslaite as Rosalinde, Thomas Litchev as Eisenstein and Chris Murphy as Falke. And rather impressively, not only does the company field a full cast and chorus, but there is a cover cast too. 

Evening performances from 4 to 6 July offer the possibility of picnicking in the grounds of St Paul's Church beforehand, whilst there is a family matinee (given by the cover cast) on 6 July.

The operetta has been reimagined in a vintage movie studio, so expect references to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and other familiar characters in a new script by writer/director Jonny Danciger. The multi-talented Danciger is a stage director, designer and composer, having music at Oxford University, where he specialised in composition and music theatre, and then training in opera direction, taking placements at the Royal Opera House and British Youth Opera, where he assisted Keith Warner. From 2020 to 2022 he was Artistic Director of the OSO theatre in South-West London.

Strauss's Die Fledermaus in rehearsal - cast and ensemble with David Butt Philip - St Paul's Opera
Strauss's Die Fledermaus in rehearsal - cast and ensemble with David Butt Philip (patron of St Paul's Opera)

Danciger comments that "it’s important to acknowledge that Die Fledermaus is a fundamentally ‘sexy’ opera. Nowadays it’s easy to misbrand the waltz as restrained, but it was viewed by many at the time to be obscene and hedonistic due to the proximity of the dancing couple. " He points out that the description 'The lead dresses up in disguise to seduce/manipulate/test their lover' could be applied to so many different operas. In Die Fledermaus, disguise and elaborate plots are essential to the opera, and he promises many playful cinematic references.

Full details from St Paul's Opera's website.


Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig: my chorale prelude at St Paul's Cathedral

Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig: my chorale prelude at St Paul's Cathedral

I recently wrote an organ chorale prelude for William Whitehead's Orgelbüchlein Project which is completing Bach's Orgelbüchlein, a set of chorale preludes for the church's year which Bach planned out and started but never finished. You can read more about the project in my recent interview with William. 

My small contribution, the chorale prelude Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig is being premiered by organist Alexander Knight at St Paul's Cathedral on Sunday 30 June 2024, before the 3pm evensong. Alexander will be playing a sequence of organ pieces in the thirty minutes before Evensong and my choral prelude will be included.

Further information about the music at St Paul's Cathedral from their website.

A richly layered depiction of characters in all their fallibility: Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at the Grange Festival

Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea - Vanessa Waldhart, Kitty Whately, Sam Furness - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)
Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea - Vanessa Waldhart, Kitty Whately, Sam Furness - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Monteverdi: L';incoronazio di Poppea; Kitty Whately, Sam Furness, Christopher Lowrey, Anna Bonitatibus, Jonathan Lemalu, directed: Walter Sutcliffe, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; The Grange Festival
Reviewed 22 June 2024

A serious exploration of love triumphant amidst fallible characters in a production that focused on individuals and brought a rich depth of characterisation and refocusing to Monteverdi's opera

Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea exists in a state that gives directors and music directors great creative freedom. With no definitive composer's manuscript, scores surviving for later performances and an early libretto, none of which quite present the same version, and a score itself with a bare minimum of information, there are plenty of decisions to be made. 

The work was premiered in Venice in 1643 in a tiny theatre as part of Venice's burgeoning commercial theatre scene. Though the opera's only surviving scores date from the 1650s, that first performance seems to have had around a whopping 28 roles played by a cast of around 11 which entailed some pretty radical doubling; one putative cast list has the same singer doubling Virtu, Ottavia and Drusilla. This version alternates tragedy and comedy, teeming with life in a way that would typify the Venetian opera of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, written for the commercial opera house rather than an aristocratic or royal patron. I suspect that the work's extensive recitatives would have been delivered at a rattling rate, this would have been a terrific show.

At the Grange Festival on Saturday 22 June 2023 we caught the last night of Walter Sutcliffe's production of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea [Sutcliffe, the former artistic director of Northern Ireland Opera, is artistic director of Halle Opera, and directed Handel's Agrippina at the Grange in 2018, see my review]. La nuova musica was in the pit, directed from the harpsichord by David Bates. Kitty Whately was Poppea, Sam Furness was Nerone, Christopher Lowrey was Ottone, Jonathan Lemalu was Seneca, Anna Bonitatibus was Ottavia, Vanessa Waldhart was Drusilla, Frances Gregory was Arnalta, with Gwilym Bowen, Jorge Navarro Colorado and Armand Rabot. Designs were by Jon Bausor.

Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea - Jonathan Lemalu, , Sam Furness - The Grange Festival
Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea - Jonathan Lemalu, , Sam Furness - The Grange Festival (Photo: Craig Fuller)

The version used was one with the Prologue for Fortuna, Amore and Virtu (Kitty Whately, Vanessa Waldhart and Anna Bonitatibus) but without the interventions of the gods or all the extra servants, so no Valetto threatening to burn Seneca's beard. It was a very serious approach, so the comic elements on the scenes with the older women, Arnalta and Nutrice, was played down. As Arnalta, Frances Gregory's suave PA was a long was from Alexander Oliver's masterful balance of comedy and tragedy in the role.

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