Wednesday 31 January 2024

Identity, displacement and homesickness: Raymond Yiu's new violin concerto inspired by the experiences of Chinese violinist and composer, Ma Sicong

Ma Sicong performing for Chinese soldiers at the front during the Korean War
Ma Sicong performing for Chinese soldiers at the front during the Korean War

When I interviewed composer Raymond Yiu, back in 2021 [see my interview] we touched on his new Violin Concerto which is inspired by the Chinese violinist and composer, Ma Sicong (1912-1987) whose music was banned for 20 years after he escaped to America and wrote about his experiences in China and so was branded a traitor.

Raymond Yiu's Violin Concerto will be premiered on 20 March 2024 at the Barbican Centre with violinist Esther Yoo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis [further details]. The concerto is co-commissioned by BBCSO for Radio 3, Hong Kong Philharmonic and Seattle Symphony.

Ma Sicong was one of the first generation of Chinese composers who went to study in Paris in the 1920s. He has been called ‘The King of Violinists’ in China. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Ma was being targeted and tortured by the Red Guards due to his position as the head of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He eventually escaped to the United States with his family, where he remained until his death. His reputation faltered in his homeland after his exile, and he never achieved the same creative reputation in his adopted home. One of Ma’s best-known compositions, Nostalgia – the second movement of his Inner Mongolia Suite (1937) for violin and piano – has been considered by many Chinese to be one of the most poignant meditations on the sorrow of exile [see on YouTube]

With the current situation in Hong Kong (where Raymond Yiu comes from) being one of deteriorating democracy and free speech, this makes his concerto seem even more prescient.

Raymond has written something about the concerto and its themes:

The main themes of the work are exile and homesickness - hence I borrow the story of Ma Sicong as the backbone for the work. With the going-ons in Hong Kong in the last few years that lead to the mass exodus of Hongkongers (including my family) this became a very personal work. I decided to reverse the traditional structure, and put the most substantial movement at the end. it has four movements, the last movement is about the same length of the first three put together.

    1. Larghetto, volubile: a fragmentary, mysterious kind of intrada which contains hints of materials from the next three movements. It is like a kind of premonition.
    2. Vivo con brio - Andantino grazioso: a playful scherzo which plays homage to shidaiqu, a genre of music which has a profound impact on me. It is the kind of music popular during Ma Sicong’s youth too.
    3. Andante desolato: a soliloquy (i.e. unaccompanied cadenza), an elaborated transcription of an erhu [a Chinese two-stringed bowed musical instrument] solo titled Huan lo ts'ao yuan (Happiness upon the grassy plain) made in Hong Kong in around 1974. When I heard the recording, I thought of Hong Kong and felt an enormous sense of nostalgia and loss. It also got me imagining the sense of loneliness when Ma Sicong was being locked up and tortured before he escaped to the States.
    4. Mesto- etc.: structurally the most complex of the movements. The quotation of Ma Sicong’s Nostalgia is most obvious in this movement. In fact the main motif of the whole work, the five-note sequence E-F-sharp-D-B-A’ is based on the opening of Nostalgia - is clearly heard at the opening of this movement. After the cadenza after the climax, the melody of third movement comes back as a counterpoint to Ma Sicong’s Nostalgia before the music dies away.

Esther Yoo comments:

"It’s very exciting to work with Ray on such a wonderful new composition. Getting to know and understand his Concerto has been a tremendously rewarding experience." 

Wednesday 20 March 2024 - Michael Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage - Ritual Dances,  Raymond Yiu: Violin Concerto, Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 - Esther Yoo, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis - Barbican Centre

Jedem Krieger sein eigen Heim: Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen and its original political inspiration

Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen: German news photograph from 1926 of the anti-war demonstration that inspired Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht's powerful piece
Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen: German news photograph from 1926 of the anti-war demonstration that inspired Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht's powerful piece

Kurt Weill's piece for unaccompanied four-part male voice ensemble, Zu Potsdam under den Eichen was premiered in Berlin in 1929. Using a text by Brecht, the piece was part of their Berliner Requiem (premiered on Radio Frankfurt in May 1929), but the piece had an independent life, being performed in November 1929 in Berlin by the Schubertchor, conductor Karl Rankl.

Brecht's poem directly refers to an historical event, an anti-war demonstration in 1926 by the Roter Frontkämpferbund (RFK), a far-left paramilitary organization affiliated with the Communist Party during the Weimar Republic (see the newspaper photograph above). According to newspaper reports, an artillery helmet, combat weapons and war honours had been placed on a coffin carried as part of the demonstration. The inscription on the coffin, which as can be seen in the photograph, read Jedem Krieger sein eigen Heim (for every warrior his own home), was a sarcastic allusion to the promise of the Supreme Army Command to allocate land to the soldiers after the end of the war and to Hindenburg's use of this slogan as an appeal for perseverance in 1917. 

The piece's title refers to Unter den Eichen' ('under the oaks'), a broad street leading from Berlin to Potsdam, which was the residence of the German Emperor and his court until 1918. 

The police report reads: 'The ban on carrying the coffin, which bore the inscriptions "Every warrior his own home" and "Thanks be to you for your fatherland", was ignored and it was therefore necessary to intervene at the Alter Markt. As the communists resisted the removal of the coffin and resisted the intervening officers, the coffin could only be removed and some of the perpetrators stopped by using the rubber truncheon and threatening to use firearms. Around 200 communists were injured during the rubber truncheon intervention. However, they were all taken away by their comrades. The police remained in control of the situation.'

My thanks to John for much of this information, a lot gleaned from Hubert Wisskirchen's paper on Kurt Weill's piece [see PDF]

London Concord Singers will be performing Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen on 21 March 2024 as part of its concert, Sing to the Stars, see the choir website for details.

A crate of flowers, which experts assure me are very choice and of admirable rarity: Ensemble Hesperi's crowdfunder for their disc themed on Telemann's love of gardening

Peterstrasse in Hamburg (reconstructed in the 1960s) and the location for Telemann's house
Peterstrasse in Hamburg (reconstructed in the 1960s) and the location for Telemann's house
Photo via the Telemann Museum

In 1754, Handel wrote a letter to Telemann (who since 1721 had been music director in Hamburg). In it Handel talks about sending Telemann 'a crate of flowers, which experts assure me are very choice and of admirable rarity', and earlier in the letter he makes reference to Telemann's passion for exotic flowers.

It is a chatty, genial letter, and worth bearing in mind that the two composers could hardly have met for around 40 years, and it seems that a strong bond had been formed between the two back in their student days in Leipzig. And whilst music director of Hamburg opera, Telemann would mount productions of Handel's operas.

The exotic flowers never arrived, because the sea captain who acted as courier heard a (false) rumour that Telemann was dead. When Handel ascertained that Telemann was still alive, Handel sent him a replacement set of plants, based on a list of Telemann's requirements, and possibly chosen from the Chelsea Physick Garden. 

It seems that Handel wasn't the only composer who Telemann wrote to about his plants, and Johann Gottlieb Graun too sent him specimens from Berlin where Graun was in the service of Crown Prince Frederick (later Frederick the Great). And Telemann declared in one letter to another friend: 'I am insatiable where hyacinths and tulips are concerned, greedy for ranunculi, and especially for anemones

Telemann and his passion for his garden is the theme for the new CD from Ensemble Hesperi (Magdalena Loth-Hill, Baroque violin, Mary-Jannet Leith, recorders, Florence Pitt, Baroque cello, Thomas Allery, harpsichord). This will be the ensemble's second CD, following their debut, Full of the Highland Humours [see my review]. 

The new disc, A Gift for your Garden will be appearing on BIS records and will feature music by Telemann, including one of his Paris Quartets and a solo flute fantasia, Handel and Graun, along with three of Scottish composer James Oswald's floral airs.

Read more and support Ensemble Hesperi via their Crowdfunding page.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

The Cumnock Tryst hosting International Summer School for composers with Sir James MacMillan and Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Dumfries House
Dumfries House

The Cumnock Tryst, the festival founded by Sir James MacMillan, is hosting its first International Summer School for composers. Taking place from 4 to 10 August 2024 at Dumfries House, the Summer School will give composers aged between 18 and 30 the opportunity to work closely with leading composers Sir James MacMillan and Anna Thorvaldstottir. 

The week will culminate in a public performance at Dumfries House on Saturday 10 August, when the composers’ work from the week will be brought to life by a professional ensemble consisting of string trio and contrabass clarinet. The ensemble, which has been specially created for this occasion, consists of the distinctive combination of strings and contrabass clarinet and is comprised of some of the finest instrumentalists in the UK – Gordon Bragg (violin), Ruth Gibson (viola), Christian Elliott (cello) and Contrabass Clarinet (Scott Lygate). The ensemble will be on hand to work with the composers throughout the week. 

Applications are open worldwide to aspiring talented composers between the ages of 18 and 30, and the eight successful participants will be able to immerse themselves in their craft, benefiting from individual feedback and guidance from MacMillan and Thorvaldsdottir, not to mention to delight and privilege of spending a week in the glorious confines of Dumfries House!

Applications are open until 23 February 2024, further details from the Cumnock Tryst's website.


The one and the other: NI Opera in new production of The Juniper Tree written jointly by Philip Glass and Robert Moran

NI Opera in new production of The Juniper Tree written jointly by Philip Glass and Robert Moran
In 1985, Philip Glass collaborated with fellow composer Robert Moran on The Juniper Tree, a chamber opera based on a tale by Brothers Grimm. The two composers collaborated almost equally, alternating scenes and sharing the responsibility for writing the transitions. The result is an intriguing hybrid, which comes after Glass' great trilogy of early operas (Einstein on the Beach, Satygraha, and Akhnaten) yet before better known chamber operas 

Northern Ireland Opera (NI Opera) is presenting a new production of the opera, directed by Cameron Menzies (NI Opera's artistic director) and conducted by Frasier Hickland in the Grand Theatre, Belfast's Studio Theatre from 21 to 24 February 2024, with a cast drawn from emerging singers who have been working on NI Opera's artist development programme including James Cooper, Mary McCabe, Rachael Heater, Jenny Bourke, Petra Wells, Desmond Havlin, Ryan Gamham, Paul McQuillan and Niamh Lavery. Further details from NI Opera's website.

Also as part of NI Opera's Studio series, the company is presenting a bit of fun for Valentine's Day. From 14-17 February 2024 they are presenting Cupid's Bow, a pastiche directed by Cameron Menzies with arias from well-known operas all in the new context of a cocktail bar, Cupid's Bow! Further details from NI Opera's website.

Back with vengeance: Nina Stemme in Richard Strauss' Elektra at Covent Garden

Strauss: Elektra - Nina Stemme, Sara Jakubiak - Royal Opera (Photo: ROH/Tristram Kenton)
Strauss: Elektra - Nina Stemme, Sara Jakubiak - Royal Opera (Photo: ROH/Tristram Kenton)

Strauss: Elektra; Nina Stemme, Sara Jakubiak, Karita Mattila, Charles Workman, Lukasz Golinski, director: Christof Loy, conductor: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera House
Reviewed 26 January 2024

Nina Stemme back on form with a coruscating performance in the title role in a new production that showcases the vividly dramatic performances from the entire cast supported by the orchestra on top form

I have been lucky with my Elektras over the years. My first was Pauline Tinsley in 1979 in Harry Kupfer's production for Welsh National Opera. I saw it on tour in Glasgow, and as far as I can tell this was the last time the work has been fully staged in Scotland (and that performance in Glasgow was the first time it had been staged there since 1910).

Then in 1988, I was lucky enough to catch Gwyneth Jones on terrific form in the very last revival of Rudolf Hartmann's 1953 production at Covent Garden. Hartmann was a director associated with Richard Strauss and he staged the premieres of Friedenstag and Capriccio, and his production seemed to echo the designs of the original Elektra

This was followed in 1990 by Götz Friedrich's production with Eva Marton and Deborah Polaski, since then Susan Bullock in Charles Edwards' 2003 production to name but a few. But it has always been Tinsley and Jones that stayed in the mind. 

Now, I can add another performance to the roster, that of Nina Stemme who returned to Christof Loy's new production at Covent Garden on 26 January 2024 with renewed vigour following a bout of illness. Antonio Pappano conducted, with Sara Jakubiak as Chrystothemis, Karita Mattila as Klytämnestra, Lukasz Golinski as Orest and Charles Workman as Ägisth. Designs were by Johannes Leiacker with lighting by Olaf Winter.

Johannes Leiacker's designs presented us with an internal courtyard for a 19th century palace, severe, forbidding, with stonework discoloured by age, closer to municipal architecture than anything else. The maids had conventional black and white uniforms, but the shortness of the skirts suggested later 20th century and the gowns for Klytämnestra and Chrysothemis hovered between late 1950s and early 1960s. Quite why this period, I am not sure but the combination of forbidding architecture and glamour was telling, emphasising the gap between Elektra and her family without having Elektra wallowing in squalor.

Strauss: Elektra - Karita Mattila, Nina Stemme - Royal Opera (Photo: ROH/Tristram Kenton)
Strauss: Elektra - Karita Mattila, Nina Stemme - Royal Opera (Photo: ROH/Tristram Kenton)

Monday 29 January 2024

Stanford, Holst and an RVW premiere: the 17th English Music Festival at Dorchester Abbey

Caricature of Stanford by Spy, Vanity Fair, 1905
Caricature of Stanford by Spy in Vanity Fair,
from 1905, three years after the Clarinet Concerto
The seventeenth  English Music Festival returns to Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire from Friday 24 May until Monday 27 May 2024. The festival's opening concert features Martin Yates conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra in a programme which includes Stanford's Clarinet Concerto with soloist Michael Collins, Doreen Carwithen's Cotswold Suite, Holst's early Cotswold Symphony and the premiere of a new suite from the music RVW wrote for performances of Shakespeare's Richard II in Stratford in 1912-13.

Other events during the weekend include violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck and pianist Peter Cartwright in Holst, Bliss, Howells, Farrar and Stanford's Violin Sonata, tenor Brian Thorsett and pianist Richard Masters in Finzi, Ireland,  USA-based English composer Frank E Tours (1877-1963) and Arthur Somervell's Maud, the Godwine Choir in a mixed programme including Howells, Havergal Brian and Holst's Hymns from the Rig Veda, plus concerts from the Flutes and Frets Duo, pianists Philip Leslie and Paul Guinery, Excalibur Voices, Shiry Rashkovsky (viola) and Richard Uttley (piano), and Ensemble Kopernicus.

The weekend ends with a concert from the strings of the English Symphony Orchestra, conductor John Andrews, in a mixed programme the beings with Howells' Serenade and ends with Rawsthorne's Light Music for Strings and along the way fits in classics like Warlock's Capriol Suite and rarities like Bliss' Two Contrasts.

Full details from the English Music Festival's website.

What happens when a conductor best known for his operatic work, conducts Mendelssohn's Elijah: Sir Antonio Pappano & the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican with Gerald Finley

Mendelssohn: Elijah - Sarah Connolly, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Antonio Pappano, Gerald Finley, Allan Clayton, London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra - Barbican Hall (Photo: Mark Allan)
Mendelssohn: Elijah - Sarah Connolly, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Antonio Pappano, Gerald Finley, Allan Clayton, London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra - Barbican Hall (Photo: Mark Allan)

Mendelssohn: Elijah; Gerald Finley, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Sarah Connolly, Allan Clayton, Guildhall Voices, London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Antonio Pappano; Barbican Hall
Reviewed 28 January 2023

A satisfying, well-thought-out performance of Elijah with a consummate account of the title role from Gerald Finley, plus chorus and orchestra on thrilling form

It is tempting to think of Mendelssohn's Elijah as an opera manqué. But like Handel in some of his more dramatic oratorios, Mendelssohn took full advantage of the non-operatic presentation which meant that dramaturgy could be creative, he could rely on the audience being able to fill in the gaps by reading the libretto and most importantly, large choral numbers could expand considerably.

So what happens when a conductor best known in London for his operatic work, conducts Mendelssohn's Elijah?

On Sunday 28 January 2024, Sir Antonio Pappano, chief conductor designate of the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted the orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus in Mendelssohn's Elijah at the Barbican Hall (the first of two performances), with soloists Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Dame Sarah Connolly, Allan Clayton and Gerald Finley, with The Guildhall Singers.

But first off, which version of Elijah were we hearing? Pappano used the standard four soloists, with Gerald Finley in the title role, plus treble Ewan Christian (head chorister of Westminster Cathedral Choir) as the child, but added into the mix The Guildhall Singers.

Mendelssohn: Elijah - Sarah Connolly, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, London Symphony Orchestra - Barbican Hall (Photo: Mark Allan)
Mendelssohn: Elijah - Sarah Connolly, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, London Symphony Orchestra - Barbican Hall (Photo: Mark Allan)

Eight students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the Guildhall Singers (Bridget Esler, Zoe Jackson, Alex Hutton, Abbie Ward, Sebastian Hill, Jacob Cole, Matias Carbonetti Schwanek, Jacob Dyksterhouse) supplied the voices for the Angels - first quartet, the octet, the trio and the semi-chorus in 'Holy, Holy, Holy'. Thus giving us the contrasts in textures that Mendelssohn requires (his first performance used a whopping ten soloists) without having to use eight, underused big-name soloists.

Sunday 28 January 2024

From Classical to Romantic: I chat to Michael Sanderling about the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra & Le Piano Symphonique festival

Wagner: Götterdämmerung suite - Michael Sanderling, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra - Le Piano Symphonique, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli)
Wagner: Götterdämmerung suite - Michael Sanderling, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra - Le Piano Symphonique, Lucerne 2024 (Photo: Philipp Schmidli)

Michael Sanderling is the current chief conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, responsible not only for the orchestra's regular season at KKL Lucerne but for conducting the orchestra in concerts at the orchestra's Le Piano Symphonique festival. [see my interview with the festival's intendant, Numa Bischof Ullman]. This year, the orchestra was accompanying the Liszt cycle (the two piano concertos and Totentanz with pianist Yoav Levanon) and Grieg's Piano Concerto (with pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja), but alongside the performance of Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 the orchestra was also playing Michael Sanderling's suite from Wagner's Gotterdammerung.

My chat with Michael Sanderling too place at a busy time, fitted in amongst his conducting and rehearsal commitments during the festival, as well as the planning for the recording sessions the following week.

Saturday 27 January 2024

A winter week focusing on the piano yet hosted by an orchestra: intendant Numa Bischof Ullmann introduces Lucerne's Le Piano Symphonique & looks forward to the 2025 festival

Pianists Yoav Levanon and Martha Argerich, and intendant Numa Bischoff Ullmann backstage at the 2024 Le Piano Symphonique in Lucerne (Photo: © Luzerner Sinfonieorchester / Philipp Schmidli)
Pianists Yoav Levanon and Martha Argerich, and intendant Numa Bischof Ullmann backstage at the 2024 Le Piano Symphonique in Lucerne (Photo: Luzerner Sinfonieorchester / Philipp Schmidli)

Lucerne's Le Piano Symphonique festival has just completed its fourth season, and having focused on Brahms, Saint-Saens and Schumann, the 2024 festival focused on the twin icons of Liszt and Schubert. The festival is based at KKL (Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern) in Lucerne and is run by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, intendant Numa Bischof Ullmann, chief conductor Michael Sanderling. If you wonder why a piano festival in Lucerne, the question really is why not as the history of the piano in Lucerne is astonishing with Rachmaninoff living nearby (as did Wagner), Scriabin living and writing in the area, Liszt living in the area, Edwin Fischer giving masterclasses and much much more.

The festival came about because the piano festival run by the Lucerne Festival (no relation) came to an end and KKL looked for ideas for a new piano festival. The result, a winter week focusing on the piano yet hosted by an orchestra, with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra's intendant, Numa Bischof Ullmann in charge of the festival. Numa emphasises the Le Piano Symphonique has friendly relations with the Lucerne Festival with the orchestra being a regular participant. The creation of Le Piano Symphonique was intended to be enriching for Lucerne rather than in competition.

Friday 26 January 2024

ChoralFest 2024: Dartington Trust announces new-look Summer school at Dartington Hall under Gavin Carr and Mark Stone.

Dartington Hall and estate
Dartington Hall and estate

Having thrown the music world into a degree of confusion last Autumn by announcing a complete re-think, the Dartington Trust has announced plans for this year's Summer school at Dartington Hall. Baritone Mark Stone is the Dartington Trust's new creative director and this Summer will be Dartington ChoralFest 2024, led by course director Gavin Carr, a noted choral conductor and chorus master of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus. 

The programme from 3-11 August 2024 will focus on Rachmaninov’s 1915 All-Night Vigil (Vespers), culminating in a public performance on Saturday evening. In addition to the full week’s rehearsals for this major work, participants will be able to take part in smaller consort singing groups, solo masterclasses and one-to-one voice lessons, as well as morning yoga and mindfulness classes to sustain them through a packed week of music making. Thursday evening will give students  a chance to let their hair down and perform their party pieces in an informal cabaret.

Gavin Carr will be joined by tutors and pianists including pianist Kelvin Lim, mezzo-sopranos Sarah Pring, Victoria Simmonds, and Allison Cook, conductor and noted coach Lada Valešová, tenors Daniel Norman and Andrew Rees, and bass James Platt. The teaching team will also give evening recitals throughout the course.

Full details from the Dartington Trust's website.

New music for old instruments: winners of the 2023 Ruzickova Composition Competition

Inspired by the example of Zuzana Ruzickova, one of the leading harpsichordists of the 20th century, the Ruzickova Composition Competition (founded by violinist Ada Witczyk) champions new music for period instruments. The fourth competition ran in 2023 with a judging panel that included Ada Witczyk, baroque violinist Simon Standage and festival manager Nick Hardisty.

The winning pieces were performed live at Mercato Mayfair in October 2023 and recorded, Concerto in D minor by Klaus Miehling [see YouTube], Memories of Malacuesta by Isidro Albarreal Delgado [see YouTube], and Voices of Angels by An Vedi [see YouTube]. Isidro Albarreal Delgado's work also received the audience prize.

Further information from Ada Witczyk's website

Dame Evelyn Glennie and the City Lit Percussion Orchestra


Dame Evelyn Glennie at the of the City Lit Percussion Orchestra's workshop (Photo: Frances Marshall)
Dame Evelyn Glennie at the City Lit Percussion Orchestra's workshop (Photo: Frances Marshall)

Solo percussionist and alumna of the Royal Academy of Music, Dame Evelyn Glennie has become Patron of the City Lit Percussion Orchestra (CLPO). The Percussion Orchestra is part of City Lit’s Centre for Learning Disability Education, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Music. Students with an ear for instruments can learn to play percussion and compose music as a group. 

To mark the occasion, Dame Evelyn visited a workshop at City Lit, where she is also a Fellow. She collaborated with the Percussion Orchestra, performing and improvising alongside the participants and passing on her expert insights. Current Academy percussion student Zach Mitchell, who has worked with the CLPO for over a year, took part in this session along with Academy harpist Bonnie Scott and Adam Collins, a recent graduate and tuba player, who is a long-standing volunteer musician with the orchestra.

the City Lit Percussion Orchestra's workshop (Photo: Frances Marshall)
The City Lit Percussion Orchestra's workshop (Photo: Frances Marshall)

The session began with the group's regular social circle where they discussed the nature of the class and meanings of interpretation. Together they performed a rendition of Terry Riley's In C, a work that Dame Evelyn had not played before. The students were then treated to a masterclass from Dame Evelyn, where she stressed the importance of 'finding your own sound story.' She also led an introduction to new percussion techniques and tools, demonstrating unique instruments, some of which she had made herself. These included homemade superball mallets and a set of Korean metal chopsticks. The session ended with a group improvisation led by Dame Evelyn and Zach Mitchell, and solo improvisations from Bonnie Scott and Adam Collins on harp and tuba which gradually opened to the group and led to a jam with all participants, encouraged by Dame Evelyn.

The City Lit Percussion Orchestra's workshop (Photo: Frances Marshall)
The City Lit Percussion Orchestra's workshop (Photo: Frances Marshall)
Further information from the Royal Academy of Music's website.

Thursday 25 January 2024

From the Tweed to the Tees: Samling Institute extends its work in state secondary schools with a network of Samling Singing Schools

Joan Rodgers CBE at Samling Academy coaching 15 year-old soprano Ava, who successfully auditioned for the programme after a Samling Futures visit to her school (Photo: Mark Pinder)
Joan Rodgers CBE at Samling Academy coaching 15 year-old soprano Ava, who successfully auditioned for the programme after a Samling Futures visit to her school (Photo: Mark Pinder)

Since 1996, the Samling Institute has been transforming the lives of early-career singers and pianists through coaching programmes, performance opportunities and ongoing support. Based in the North East of England, Samling also helps young people who live or study in the region to find and develop their talent for classical singing through Samling Academy where singers aged 14–21 can explore all aspects of classical singing and develop wider performance skills, led by expert vocal coaches, song pianists, actors and movement specialists.

Samling is now widening its support for young people with the launch of Samling Singing Schools. This new project marks a significant expansion to its work in state secondary schools as it creates a network of Samling Singing Schools stretching from the Tweed to the Tees. 

Each Samling Singing School will receive a period of intensive tuition over six weeks, followed by regular support visits. The institute's leaders will work with choirs and small groups to help singers at all levels to develop a secure and healthy vocal technique. They will also provide specialist coaching and share best practice in singing teaching with school music staff, to ensure the legacy of the project.

Egglescliffe School in Stockton-on-Tees will be the first Samling Singing School, with visits starting in February and they will be adding two more schools each year as the project rolls out across the region. 

Matthew Haworth, Subject Leader for Music and Associate Assistant Headteacher at Egglescliffe said:

Over the years I’ve seen students absolutely transformed by their experiences at Samling Academy. We’re thrilled that Samling Institute’s expertise and their passion for excellence will now be available throughout our school and to our feeder primary and partner schools. I am absolutely convinced that this is going to be a very successful partnership.

Further details from the Samling Institute website.

Leipzig 300: Dunedin Consort celebrates Bach's appointment at St Thomas' Church with his music alongside that of his rivals

Dunedin Consort - Leipzig 300

When Bach took up his appointment at St Thomas' Church, Leipzig in 1723 one of his main duties was to write music for the Sunday services. He was in fact third choice for the post, but would dutifully (and perhaps gladly) labour for years, producing a weekly cantata as well as larger scale works such as Passions. Bach's previous appointment, as kapellmeister in Köthen, had not needed any sung church music as his employer, Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen had been a Calvinist. With the pressure of a weekly cantata and more, Bach's imagination seemed to take off. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that his cycles of cantatas for Leipzig helped change the course of Western classical music.

When the post at St Thomas' Church was being filled, both Telemann and Graupner were successful in the applications. Each composer came to Leipzig for an audition, performing two new cantatas at a service. Only one cantata by Telemann survives, and a disc from Ælbgut and Capella Jenensis on Accentus presents a fascinating survey of all the surviving cantatas [see my review]. But Leipzig town council hit a very modern problem, Telemann's existing employer increased his salary and Telemann stayed put, whilst Graupner's employer wouldn't release him. So it was down to number three on their list, Bach.

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort are celebrating (slightly late) the 300th anniversary of Bach's appointment with a concert which combines music by Telemann and Graupner along with cantatas from Bach's first cantata cycle for Leipzig. The programme includes Telemann’s Concerto for viola performed by Dunedin Consort’s principal viola John Crockatt, and  Bach’s Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt written for four violas!  

Joining the ensemble are soloists Julia Doyle (soprano), Helen Charlston (mezzo- soprano), Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), and Matthew Brook (baritone) with concerts at Perth Concert Hall on Wednesday 7 February, The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh on Thursday 8 February, and Wigmore Hall, London on Friday 9 February.

Full details from the Dunedin Consort's website.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

NMC Recordings celebrates 35 years of supporting composers

Imogen Holst and Colin Matthews in 1984
Imogen Holst and Colin Matthews in 1984
2024 sees NMC celebrating its 35th birthday with a release schedule that continues to do what the label was founded to, supporting composers. 2024 will see new debut albums from Freya Waley-Cohen, Tom Coult, Lisa Illean, and Richard Baker, partnership projects with National Youth Choir and Philharmonia, and new collaboration with Drake Music Scotland, the Disabled Artist Network and Tŷ Cerdd.

NMC will also be recording a new album of Imogen Holst's previously unreleased works, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the BBC Singers, conducted by Alice Farnham. And on 3 July 2024, NMC joins forces with Spitalfields Festival for a special birthday concert celebrating 35 years of NMC.

Composer Colin Matthews founded NMC in 1989 to remedy the almost non-existent representation of living British composers in the recording catalogues of major labels at the time. NMC’s work supporting the rich breadth of compositional talent from Britain and Ireland means that its catalogue has now grown to hold more than 300 albums.

But the label likely would not have come about without the support of Imogen Holst. Colin Matthews set up the Holst Foundation with Imogen Holst shortly before her death in 1984. She made it clear to him that the foundation's future role should not be to subsidise her father’s music. Instead she envisaged it as a means to support the work of living composers. She and Colin Matthews talked extensively about funding recordings and though NMC did not come about until five years after her death, Matthews always knew that label was founded with her blessing, and that she would have approved wholeheartedly of what has been accomplished since 1989.

Further information from the NMC website.

Norfolk-based arts writer, Tony Cooper, enjoys a musical heritage tour to Leipzig, a relaxing and inviting city to visit awash with so much musical history.

The Gewandhaus at the Augustusplatz in Leipzig-Mitte with the Mendebrunnen at night (2016)
The Gewandhaus at the Augustusplatz in Leipzig-Mitte with the Mendebrunnen at night (2016)
(Photo: Wikimedia - By Ichwarsnur - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0) 

Come 2025, the Leipzig Gewandhaus will be staging a major international festival in honour of Dimitri Shostakovich marking the 50th anniversary of his death

A frequent visitor to Germany attending Ring cycles here, there and everywhere, Tony Cooper recently enjoyed a short break in Leipzig taking in a concert by the Gewandhausorchester conducted by Alan Gilbert featuring Shostakovich’s 10th symphony whilst also enjoying a rare performance of Thea Musgrave’s opera, Mary, Queen of Scots.  

With so much musical history and knowledge wrapped up in Leipzig’s cultural portfolio, Tony also took adventurous steps by way of trekking the Leipzig Music Trail stopping off to visit the Bach-Archiv, conveniently situated opposite St Thomas’ Church and the Mendelssohn House Museum not forgetting, of course, the Schumann House while soaking up the city’s illustrious past discovering that Richard Wagner was born here, Georg Philipp Telemann worked here and just up the road in Halle, George Frideric Handel, entered life. And that’s just for starters!  

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Bliss International Song Series 2024: Schumann & Schubert in Pembroke College's newly refurbished chamber hall

Joseph Middleton & Sarah Connolly at Pembroke College's Bliss International Song Series in 2023 (Photo: Sally March)
Joseph Middleton & Sarah Connolly at Pembroke College's Bliss International Song Series in 2023 (Photo: Sally March)

Pembroke College, Cambridge's Bliss International Song Series, artistic director Joseph Middleton, relaunched last year in the college's newly refurbished 200-seater chamber hall (a former United Reformed Church), complete with new Steinway (previously the song series had been in the Old Library). The series is named for composer Sir Arthur Bliss who studied at the college. So far this season, the series has seen recitals by Sir Simon Keenlyside and Dame Sarah Connolly, and a masterclass from Sir Thomas Allen.

On Friday 9 February, baritone Konstantin Krimmel and pianist Joseph Middleton perform Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, then on 5 March tenor Christoph Prégardien and Joseph Middleton present A Heine Songbook with settings of Heine's poetry by Schubert and Schumann including Schumann's Dichterliebe.

Founded and Directed by Joseph Middleton, Pembroke Bye-Fellow and College Musician, the series offers a year-round programme of concerts devised to promote the enjoyment and appreciation of art song. Joseph Middleton said: "Pembroke College remains the single most important place for song recitals in the region, attracting the world’s finest singers to perform the greatest repertoire in front of a warm and discerning audience. The opening of the superb new Pembroke Auditorium is the icing on the cake. Cambridge now boasts a stunning chamber music hall, perfect for this intimate art-form."

Full details from the Pembroke College website.

Homage to Liszt: Benjamin Grosvenor on astonishing form in Liszt and Brett Dean in Lucerne

Benjamin Grosvenor - Le Piano Symphonique at Lukaskirche, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli für das Luzerner Sinfonieorchester)
Brett Dean: Faustian Pact - Benjamin Grosvenor - Le Piano Symphonique
at Lukaskirche, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli für das Luzerner Sinfonieorchester)

Brett Dean: Faustian Pact, Hommage à Liszt (first performance), Liszt: Sonata in B minor, Chopin: Sonata No. 3; Benjamin Grosvenor; Le Piano Symphonique at Lukaskirche, Lucerne
Reviewed 19 January 2024

Benjamin Grosvenor combines astonishing virtuosity alongside intimacy and sheer power in Liszt's sonata and Brett Dean's new piece inspired by Grosvenor's performance of the Liszt

What did the piano sonata mean for those who came after Beethoven. Chopin' first mature sonata (no 2 in B flat major from 1839) has become one of the icons of the piano repertoire, but for Robert Schumann the work demonstrated that Chopin could not handle sonata form. Chopin wrote his Sonata No. 3, in B minor (a key not used by Beethoven for his sonatas) in 1844, partly to counter these criticisms.

Chopin adhered to the traditional four-movement sonata form but within this he used new, Romantic content to create something new.

Franz Liszt wrote a single sonata in 1853 (also in B minor) and dedicated it to Robert Schumann. But the work had been in progress since at least 1849. Liszt opted for innovation in both structure and content, writing a huge single-movement structure that has commentators talking about its exact meaning.

On Friday 19 January 2024, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor gave the lunchtime recital for Le Piano Symphonique in Lucerne's Lukaskirche. Grosvenor placed Liszt's Sonata in B minor at the centre of his recital, following it by Chopin's Sonata No. 3 and preceding it with the world premiere of Brett Dean's Faustian Pact (Hommage à Liszt), the most recent Dean's homage pieces (previous ones have been included Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Kurtag), a co-commission from Le Piano Symphonique and Wigmore Hall, and written for Benjamin Grosvenor whose performance of Liszt's sonata inspired Brett Dean's work.

Choral singers wanted for 24-Hour Mozart Requiem in aid of Pimlico Musical Foundation

24 Hour Mozart Requiem
Choral singers invited to take part in a 24-Hour Drop-In performance of Mozart’s Requiem, raising money for local music education charity, Pimlico Musical Foundation. This continuous singathon will start at St. Gabriel's Church, Pimlico at 16:00 on Thursday 22 February 2024 with whoever is there. 

The singers will then work their way through the choruses and solos until they get to the end, at which point the piece will start over again. This will be repeated non-stop for 24 hours until they finish at 15:59 on Friday 23 February 2024. The event will be livestreamed throughout via the Pimlico Musical Foundation’s social media. 

Choral singers of all voice types are invited to sing for any length of time, with a star-studded line up of conductors, including Ralph Alwood, Ben Parry and Suzi Digby.

The Pimlico Musical Foundation (PMF) was set up in 2015 to provide local children from all backgrounds with a top-quality education in choral music, at a time when music provision in schools is under pressure. It works with local schools in a wide variety of ways, and its regular large-scale concerts provide an opportunity for the local community to come together to enjoy music of all kinds.

The event is a collaboration between PMF and Labrador Events, a previous 24-Hour Drop-In Messiah at St George’s Church, Hanover Square in September 2023 raised almost £10,000.

For the £10 sign-up fee, singers will receive professionally produced rehearsal audio tracks for all 4 voice parts as well as a digital score. They then suggest a donation of £5 per hour (or part hour) to attend the Drop-In in aid of Pimlico Musical Foundation. 

Full details from the Labrador Events website.

Monday 22 January 2024

UK-based arts writer, Tony Cooper, offers a preview of Northern Opera Group’s 8th Annual Leeds Opera Festival which includes a brand-new opera on Sherlock Holmes.

Murder, Mystery & Music: Northern Opera Group's Leeds Opera Festival 2024

Running from 17 August to 8 September 2024, the 8th Annual Leeds Opera Festival, programmed by Northern Opera Group, offers audiences a blend of world premières alongside exciting collaborations designed for the whole community. The festival’s renowned for combining new productions of rare operas peppered by  a wide programme of talks, panel discussions, workshops and other events across the late August Bank Holiday weekend.  

For instance, the 2023 festival featured the UK première of Robert Rodriguez’ opera Frida alongside a collaboration with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance on Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires in a healthy and inspiring four-week programme of opera and music inspired by Latin America. Other recent productions include Charles Villiers Stanford’s Much Ado About Nothing (2019) and Handel’s Silla (2022).  

And reaching out to communities in Leeds and Bradford, Northern Opera Group is committed in enabling people of all ages and abilities to take part in opera with an annual community opera engaging participants and family audiences in both these important and culturally fired-up northern towns. Recent productions have included César Cui’s Little Red Riding Hood (2022) and David Parry’s Pied Piper of Hamelin (2024). 

Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires - Leeds Opera Festival 2023 (Photo: Rhian Hughes)
Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires - Leeds Opera Festival 2023 (Photo: Rhian Hughes)

And a major new commission this year sees the world’s first-ever opera adaptation surrounding the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Entitled Sherlock Holmes and The Sign of Four, the opera’s directed by David Ward, written by award-winning composer Lliam Paterson (also responsible for the libretto) and conducted by Ellie Slorach with stage design by Caitlin Mawhinney and lighting by Charly Dunford. Audiences can, therefore, well expect a musical journey through the iconic tale bringing a fresh perspective to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work. 

The outstanding bass Edward Hawkins leads a strong cast in the title-role working alongside tenor David Horton as Watson while soprano Ellen Mawhinney is cast in the role of Mary and bass Trevor Eliot Bowes as Jonathan Small. The cast is further strengthened by Katy Thomson (Mrs Hudson), Dominic Mattos (Thaddeus Sholto) and Zahid Siddiqui (Athelney Jones). 

Complementing the mysteries and intrigue of Mr Holmes’ shenanigans an interactive mystery show will tour West Yorkshire libraries targeted for children from 8 to12 years old. Entitled The Book of Eternity the show will call at over 20 libraries across Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Kirklees offering an immersive experience which promises to bring the magic of opera to diverse communities across the region which will include creative workshops with primary school pupils in Leeds. The story is written by leading children’s mystery author, Clare Povey. 

The festival will also feature a Musical Escape Room which combines the thrill of opera with the immersive challenges of an escape room experience. This collaboration with a local Escape Room company promises a unique and entertaining fusion of music and mystery that would, I’m sure, impress the famous deerstalker detective. 

A new direction this year is the introduction of the festival’s first guest artistic director, a move designed to diversify artistic leadership and support the next generation of opera leaders. And as part of its wider commitment to fostering a more equitable and sustainable opera community, Northern Opera Group has also become one of the only companies to establish a house agreement with Equity. This agreement solidifies the company’s long-standing commitment to appropriate levels of pay and positive working conditions for artists. 

The festival is supported by Arts Council England, International Music and Art Foundation, Postlethwaite Music Foundation, RVW Trust, Marchus Trust, Leeds Community Foundation, Sir Keith Howard Foundation and Leeds City Council. 

For more information check out 

Let the dialogue flow: Benjamin Bernheim leads a wonderfully memorable account of Massenet's Werther in Zurich

Massenet: Werther - Benjamin Bernheim, Valeriy Murga - Zurich Opera (Photo: Toni Suter)
Massenet: Werther - Benjamin Bernheim, Valeriy Murga - Zurich Opera (Photo: Toni Suter)

Massenet: Werther; Benjamin Bernheim, Rihab Chaieb, Sandra Hamaoui, Audun Iversen, Valeriy Murga, director: Tatjana Gürbaca/Nina Russi, conductor: Giedrė Šlekytė; Zurich Opera
Reviewed 19 January 2024

One of those performances created by people who understood what is needed in Massenet's opera with one of the most finely sung accounts of the title role that I have ever heard. Pure magic

Zurich Opera debuted its production of Massenet's Werther at Zurich Opera House in 2017, directed by Tatjana Gürbaca with Juan Diego Florez in the title role. On Friday 19 January 2024, the production received its first revival (revival director Nina Russi), conducted by Giedrė Šlekytė with Benjamin Bernheim in the title role, Rihab Chaieb making her house debut as Charlotte, Sandra Hamaoui as Sophie, Audun Iversen as Albert and Valeriy Murga as Le Bailli.

Werther has an important Swiss history. Written in 1885, it was rejected by the Opéra Comique in Paris as being too serious. Eventually the work would be premiered in Vienna at the Hofoper in German in 1892. The first performance in the original French was later in 1892 in Geneva, with the first performance in France not happening until 1893 when it was given by the Théâtre Lyrique and it was not until 1903 that the Opéra Comique took the work on.

In Zurich, Klaus Grünberg's set consisted of a single wood panelled box with compartments/cupboards that opened to reveal the necessaries for the plot - dinner things, bread, Albert's pistol, an organ for Act Two, an urn with Charlotte's mother's ashes and so on. Costumes (by Silke Willrett) were roughly modern, however no mobile phones and Le Bailli uses a small portable typewriter.

Massenet: Werther - Benjamin Bernheim, Rihab Chaib - Zurich Opera (Photo: Toni Suter)
Massenet: Werther - Benjamin Bernheim, Rihab Chaib - Zurich Opera (Photo: Toni Suter)

But there was also a surreal element to the staging in the way the children in Act One would emerge from odd cupboards whilst throughout the evening members of the cast emerged and disappeared through odd panels. For his first entrance, Benjamin Bernheim's Werther emerged along the fore-stage and walked into the dramatic space, whilst his hymn to nature took place whilst he wandered round the stationery members of Le Bailli's family, almost as if Werther had conjured them from his imagination.

Sunday 21 January 2024

From large-scale Liszt and Wagner to intimate Schumann and Schubert at Lucerne's Le Piano Symphonique

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Yoav Levanon, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra - Le Piano Symphonique, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli)
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Yoav Levanon, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra - Le Piano Symphonique, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli)

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2, Wagner, arr. Michael Sanderling: Götterdämmerung Suite, Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op 13, Schubert: Allegro in A minor, D947; Yoav Levanon, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sanderling, Elisabeth Leonskaja, David Fray; Le Piano Symphonique at KKL, Lucerne
Reviewed 18 January 2024

From Lisztian bombast to Wagnerian sorcery with the Lucerne orchestra in fine fettle, then the contrast of mesmerising solo Schumann from Elisabeth Leonskaja and ending with pure friendship as she and David Fray duetted

The history of Liszt's piano concertos is somewhat complex. He began sketching ideas for what would become his first piano concerto in 1830, but it did not come to completion until 1849. In the mean time, he began work on what would become his second piano concerto in 1839/40 but did not complete the final revisions to the work until 1861. By this time his career as a virtuoso was over, so the two concertos have rather different aims. The first is a virtuoso vehicle, allowing space for the soloist who initiates ideas. The second is closer to Liszt's symphonic poems with the piano having a more accompanying role. As such, it was fascinating to hear the two played on successive evenings by the same soloist, orchestra and conductor, in the same hall.

Schubert: Allegro - David Fray, Elisabeth Leonskaja - Le Piano Symphonique, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli)
David Fray, Elisabeth Leonskaja - Le Piano Symphonique, Lucerne (Photo: Philipp Schmidli)

Friday 19 January 2024

An evening of bold & adventurous programming: wind & brass from Southbank Sinfonia & Britten Sinfonia combine under Nicholas Daniel at St John's Smith Square

Percy Grainger in the uniform of a US Army bandsman, 1917
Percy Grainger in the uniform of a US Army bandsman, 1917

Copland, Mozart, Lindberg, Stravinsky, Alberga, Grainger; Southbank Sinfonia, Britten Sinfonia, Nicholas Daniel; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 18 January 2024

An enormously successful collaboration between two leading chamber orchestras

Combining the wind, brass and percussion players from two fantastic orchestras together into one ensemble, this was an evening of bold and adventurous programming featuring the combined forces from two different exciting and engaging ensembles. 

At St John's Smith Square on 18 January 2024, members of Southbank Sinfonia and Britten Sinfonia combined under conductor Nicholas Daniel to present a kaleidoscopic and vibrant selection of music originally written for, or specially arranged for, wind and brass (with a sprinkle of percussion too), with music by Copland, Mozart, Magnus Lindberg, Stravinsky, Eleanor Alberga and Percy Grainger.

Made in Switzerland: tenor Daniel Behle & pianist Oliver Schnyder combine musicality & intelligence in their recital for Lucerne's Le Piano Symphonique

View of Lucerne - watercolour by Felix Mendelssohn 1847
View of Lucerne - watercolour by Felix Mendelssohn 1847 (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Made in Switzerland - Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schubert/Liszt, Liszt, Wagner, R. Strauss; Daniel Behle, Oliver Schnyder; Le Piano Symphonique at Lukaskirche, Lucerne
Reviewed 18 January 2024

A wonderfully imaginative programme centred on music created in Switzerland in finely communicative and musical performances, combining bravura and technical skill with sheer musicality and intelligence

Le Piano Symphonique's lunchtime concerts in Lucerne largely take place in the Lukaskirche, a fine 1930s church not far from KKL, the festival's evening home. There, in front of the impressive stained glass window of the Last Judgement (by Louis Moilliet), Swiss pianist Oliver Schnyder and German tenor Daniel Behle presented Made in Switzerland on 18 January 2024, a programme exploring music by composers who lived and worked in Switzerland. Their programme centred on Liszt's Années de pèlerinagePremière année: Suisse, and ended with Richard Strauss, living in Switzerland after World War II and writing his Four Last Songs.

But the recital began with Mendelssohn who not only visited Lucerne but painted it in 1847 (see above). Some ten years before this, Mendelssohn was writing his Bach-inspired Six Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35 and Oliver Schnyder played the first of these, in E Major. The prelude was full of movement and drama with Schnyder making a wonderfully vivid sound. The fugue began in a concentrated fashion with a rather chromatic fugue subject, but Schnyder made the movement build in momentum and drama leading to a vibrant climax, which was followed by Mendelssohn's incorporation of a chorale into the structure.

Thursday 18 January 2024

From poetic Liszt and Grieg concertos to a little bit of magic from Martha Argerich and friends at Le Piano Symphonique in Lucerne

Grieg: Piano Concerto - Elisabeth Leonskaja, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sanderling (Photo: Philipp Schmidli, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester)
Grieg: Piano Concerto - Elisabeth Leonskaja, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sanderling (Photo: Philipp Schmidli, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester)

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1, Grieg: Piano Concerto, Haydn, Mendelssohn; Yoav Levanon, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sanderling, Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Janine Jansen; Le Piano Symphonique at KKL (Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern)
Reviewed 17 January 2024    

From the poetry of the young Yoav Levanon in Liszt's symphonic concerto and Elisabeth Leonskaya making Grieg her own to sheer magic from just three performers led by Martha Argerich in piano trios by Haydn and Mendelssohn

The Lucerne Symphony Orchestra's Le Piano Symphonique festival has returned to Lucerne for its fourth edition with a week of concerts focused on the piano and all things keyboard. The festival opened at Lucerne's KKL (Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern) with a recital from pianists Michael Pletnev and Martha Argerich (recently named as the festival's Pianiste Associée) on Tuesday 16 January. We caught the second evening of the festival at KKL on 17 January 2024, Michael Sanderling conducted the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra in Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Yoav Levanon and Grieg's Piano Concerto with soloist Elisabeth Leonskaja. The festival continues its innovative exploration of concert programming, so the second half of the evening then moved to piano trios, with Martha Argerich joined by cellist Mischa Maisky and violinist Janine Jansen for Haydn's Piano Trio in G major, 'Gypsy Rondo' and Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor.

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Yoav Levanon  (Photo: Philipp Schmidli, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester)
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Yoav Levanon  (Photo: Philipp Schmidli, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester)

Yoav Levanon was the soloist last year in the festival's performance of the Paderewski Piano Concerto [see my review], and he has returned this year to perform both Liszt concertos as well as the Totentanz and then the performances will be recorded for Warner Classics next week. Levanon is something of a youthful wonder, still only nineteen and looking not unlike the young Liszt (and he is the age Liszt was when the composer started work on his concerto).

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