Tuesday 30 April 2024

14 premieres, music in iconic spaces, the Cries of London: Spitalfields Music Festival 2024

Spitalfields Music Festival returns with events in iconic spaces across East London from 27 June to 10 July 2024.
Spitalfields Music Festival returns with events in iconic spaces across East London from 27 June to 10 July 2024. The festival opens with soprano Nardus Williams and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny in In the Shadow of the Tower, exploring East London's cosmopolitan history in a recital at St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. The concert features a new work by Roderick Williams, one of 14 premieres being presented at this year's festival. And we return to St Peter ad Vincula for Sing Joyfully: Tudor and Jacobean Music for the Chapel Royal performed by Choir of the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London.

The Carice Singers explore another aspect of London history with Cries of London at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, featuring Berio's Cries of London alongside music by Alexander Papp, Mary Offer, Robert Crehan, Effy Efthymiou, Alice Beckwith, and Anibal Vidal. Whilst the Gentle Author will be talking about the cries of London at St Botolph without Bishopsgate hall, and one of the festival's Neighbourhood Schools projects also focuses on the subject. Students will be producing a sound installation inspired by the modern day Cries of London, which will be on display at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate on Tuesday 2 July.

The Manchester Collective are returning to Village Underground for a programme including music by Missy Mazzoli, Edmund Finnis, Kaija Saariaho, Caroline Shaw, Errollyn Wallen, Dobrinka Tabakova and a new commission from Jocelyn Campbell. The National Youth Choir Fellowship Ensemble will be joining Zoe Martlew (cello), Roderick Williams (baritone), Andrew West (piano) and the trombone quartet Slide Action for a concert at the Dutch Church, Austin Friars, celebrating NMC Recordings' 35 anniversary with a wide range of music associated with the label from Ben Nobuto and Alex Paxton to Zoe Martlew and Roxanna Panufnik to Brian Elias and Howard Skempton to Imogen Holst and Richard Rodney Bennett.

Me Without You from composer Emily Levy and Writer-Director Mella Faye celebrates those we’ve lost and those of us who are still here, through music, dance and recorded interviews, at Metronome London.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields makes its festival debut with a programme of Ruth Gipps, Britten, Walton, Elgar, Walton, Jonathan Woolgar and Philip Herbert' s Elegy: in memoriam Stephen Lawrence at St Anne's Church, Limehouse. Stephanie Lamprea (soprano) and Anna Kjær (choreographer / dancer) join the Hebrides Ensemble for Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire alongside an exhibition of new paintings by double bassist and artist Kirsty Matheson at St Mary at Hill.

Alongside these and other events there are walking tours, talks and much more.

Full details from the festival website.

The meaning of music in a terrifying world: BCMG to premiere Joe Cutler and Max Hoehn's Sonata for Broken Fingers

Joe Cutler: Sonata for Broken Fingers

An urban myth tells of how, one evening, Stalin made a surprise phone call to Radio Moscow demanding the urgent delivery of a record: a Mozart piano concerto played by Maria Yudina. Unfortunately, radio companies at this time did not always preserve their broadcasts for a future release or even for their own archive. But rather than say 'no' to Stalin, Radio Moscow gathered together Yudina and their orchestra in the middle of the night and made the recording from scratch, ready to be delivered to the Kremlin the following morning. In the version of the myth as told by Shostakovich, it was this recording that was found on Stalin’s gramophone player when the dictator had his fatal stroke.

Now, the remarkable life of virtuoso pianist, Maria Yudina (1899-1970) is the inspiration for a new opera, Sonata for Broken Fingers, by composer Joe Cutler and librettist Max Hoehn to be premiered by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) on 14 July 2024 at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. 

The project is a collaboration between BCMG, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and Birmingham-based composer, Joe Cutler, who runs the Conservatoire’s composition department. The premiere is being presented in collaboration with Birmingham Record Company and Opera21. Sian Edwards conducts with a cast including Claire Booth, James Cleverton, Stephen Richardson, Lucy Schaufer and Christopher Lemmings. And the good news is that the work will be recorded for future release by Birmingham Record Company.

Sonata for Broken Fingers is Joe Cutler's first opera. An 80-minute claustrophobic thriller, it is conceived as an intimate sound experience, strongly influenced by the genre of radio drama and explores the meaning of music in a terrifying world.

Full details from BCMG's website.

A neglected gem revived: New Sussex Opera in Lampe's The Dragon of Wantley combining historic style and 1980s politics

Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Charlotte Badham - New Sussex Opera
Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Charlotte Badham - New Sussex Opera (Photo: Robert Knights)

Lampe & Carey: The Dragon of Wantley; Ana Beard Fernandez, Charlotte Badham, Magnus Walker, Robert Gildon, director: Paul Higgins, conductor: Toby Purser, Bellot Ensemble; New Sussex Opera at the Theatre Royal, Winchester
Reviewed 28 April 2024

Updated to the 1980s miners' strike, New Sussex Opera's production mixes political satire and period style along with a sense of enjoyment in the work's send-up of opera seria

British theatre always seems to have been fond of music, Purcell's semi-operas were the musical spectaculars of their day and regular plays often included music. The development of ballad opera (songs based on pre-existing melodies with spoken dialogue) was a logical extension with most ballad operas, from The Beggar's Opera (1728) onwards having a satirical edge to them, usually making fun of the Italian opera seria as well as political hot potatoes of the day.

What took far longer to develop was a tradition of lighter, comic English operas. One notable example, which has been consistently undervalued, is John Frederick Lampe and Henry Carey's The Dragon of Wantley. Originally written in 1737 this was a fully sung English comic opera with newly composed music, yet its dramatic thrust has a lot in common with ballad opera, satire on Italian opera seria and poking fun at politics.

In the case of The Dragon of Wantley, the composer John Frederick Lampe had a secret weapon. He was the bassoonist in Handel's orchestra and had actually written opera seria. The Dragon of Wantley is a fully-developed opera seria yet sung to an English libretto which makes fun of the whole thing, allied to a ludicrous plot taken from a broadside ballad about a Yorkshire dragon defeated via a kick up the backside by a beer-swilling local knight. In Lampe's day, audiences understood the dragon in the plot was satirising Robert Walpole's tax policies, so there is a political point to all the fun.

Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Ana Beard Fernandez, Rob Gildon, Charlotte Badham - New Sussex Opera
Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Ana Beard Fernandez, Rob Gildon, Charlotte Badham - New Sussex Opera (Photo: Robert Knights)

The Dragon of Wantley has come to attention again thanks to the excellent new recording on Resonus Classics [see my review], and now New Sussex Opera has taken up the gauntlet, staging the work and touring it around South East England. The tour opened in Lewes on 14 April, and we caught its stop at the Theatre Royal, Winchester on Sunday 28 April 2024. The production was by Paul Higgins with designs by Mollie Cheek. Toby Purser conducted the Bellot Ensemble, with Ana Beard Fernandez as Margery, Charlotte Badham as Mauxalinda, Robert Gildon as Gaffer Gubbins and the Dragon, and Magnus Walker as Moore of Moore Hall.

Monday 29 April 2024

Lobesgesang: Mendelssohn's rarely performed symphony-cantata is a fine climax to Sir Andras Schiff and the OAE's exploration of the composer's symphonic music

Portrait of Mendelssohn by Wilhelm Hensel, 1847
Portrait of Mendelssohn by Wilhelm Hensel, 1847

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 2 'Lobesgesang'; Lucy Crowe, Hilary Cronin, Nick Pritchard, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Choir of the Enlightenment, Sir Andras Schiff; Queen Elizabeth Hall
Reviewed 26 April 2024

A near ideal performance of the violin concerto followed by an account of Mendelssohn's great symphony-cantata that never compromised the work's idiosyncrasy yet brought out its rich detail and emotionalism

Sir Andras Schiff and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) have been celebrating Mendelssohn. It is strange that the effort needs making, but we still have a tendency to downgrade the composer's symphonic output. Schiff and the OAE, however, have been putting it top dead centre with three concerts at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall which featured all of the composer's symphonies, two piano concertos with Schiff directing from the keyboard and the Violin Concerto in E Minor with Alina Ibragimova

We caught the final concert, on Friday 26 April 2024 which featured Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor with Alina Ibragimova, and Symphony No. 2 'Lobesgesang' with the Choir of the Enlightenment and soloists Lucy Crowe, Hilary Cronin and Nick Pritchard (replacing Nicky Spence).

We began with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, his last major orchestral work. Conceived for the concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the work took Mendelssohn from 1828 to 1845 to write, belying its apparent effortlessness. Schiff used an orchestra based on 33 strings, double woodwind, two horns and two trumpets, quite a large group for a work which can sometimes be given chamber proportions. Alina Ibragimova began with a fine-grained tone, light and fluid playing allied to free phrasing. She never attempted to big-up her tone nor force her way into the spotlight, it all felt somehow effortless and natural, yet compelling and very stylish. In the first movement, there were moments that were daringly intimate, but for all the period manners, there was some very real drama. Schiff encouraged his players to bring out some beautifully vivid colours in the orchestral transition. When the second movement proper, began, it was all singing elegance and fine grained tone. Intimate and delicate, yet with an underlying strength. This delicate approach continued into the last movement, which was delightfully pointed and I loved the sound of Ibragimova's violin with the wind bubbling along beside her, and the excitement continued to the end. What this performance did was discover a work that was both stronger and more delicate than is often the case, and was notably lacking that sense of saccharine that an over-vibrato-laden violin solo can bring.

Saturday 27 April 2024

Fear no more: Brindley Sherratt on releasing his first recital disc

Brindley Sherratt (Photo: Gerard Collett)
Brindley Sherratt (Photo: Gerard Collett)

I first chatted with bass Brindley Sherratt in early 2020 about a fundraising gala he was organising. Much happened afterwards, and the interview did not appear on the blog until 2022 [see my interview]. When we chatted then, Brindley was moving into singing larger, more dramatic roles including Wagner.

But when we met again recently it was to talk about a project on an entirely different scale, Brindley's first recital disc, with pianist Julius Drake, Fear No More on the Delphian label. A disc that features music by Schubert, Richard Strauss, John Ireland, Gerald Finzi, Ivor Gurney, Michael Head, Peter Warlock and Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death.

Brindley suggests that, like most things in his career, his releasing of a debut disc is a bit topsy turvy as he is singing larger roles including Wagner and doing more recitals, both ends of the performing spectrum in other words. Some years ago, the mezzo-soprano Alice Coote told him that he needed to do some recitals and introduced Brindley to pianist Julius Drake. 

Julius Drake suggested that Brindley come round and they would go through some repertoire. At the time, Brindley admits that he didn't really know any songs. Lockdown intervened, but after a long time, they settled on a programme and performed it at the Oxford Lieder Festival and as part of Temple Song. Doing recitals had never been part of Brindley's big plan, but once he started he found that he loved the process. 

His first response, to having recital work suggested to him, was 'No'. He was afraid of the intimacy of the recital hall. Normally, his audience is in the dark, some 80 feet away with an orchestra between. But he found that the very thing he had been afraid of was something he loved. He found he enjoyed the flexibility of a recital, just the two of them. And Julius Drake can play firmly and strongly, which means he lets Brindley be.

Friday 26 April 2024

David Pickard says farewell to the BBC Proms with 90 concerts across the UK including Bizet's Carmen, Julius Eastman's Symphony No. 2, Suk's Asrael Symphony and much more

BBC Proms 2024

So, the BBC Proms are on us again. The 2024 festival runs from 19 July to 14 September 2024 with 73 concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and 17 around the UK, with short seasons at Bristol Beacon and The Glasshouse, Gateshead, plus concerts in Nottingham, Newport, Aberdeen and Belfast. This season represents David Pickard's last as director and Hannah Donat has taken over as Director of Artistic Planning for the BBC Proms. She is former Concerts Director of Britten Sinfonia and has been Artistic Producer of the Proms for the last seven years, which has seen her bring orchestras and ensembles to the event and work closely with the BBC’s Orchestras and Choirs

Visiting ensembles this year include the Berlin Philharmonic and Kirill Petrenko, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, Czech Philharmonic and Jakub Hrůša, and the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim. Another visitor on a smaller scale is Sir Andras Schiff who will be playing Bach's The Art of Fugue.

2024 also sees the 100th anniversary of the founding of the BBC Singers and this year's programme not only celebrates the ensemble, but the idea of choral music, with the BBC Singers in seven Proms including premiering a work written for them by Eric Whitacre, a three-concert Choral Day reflecting a wide range of styles with professional and amateur choirs including Voices of the River’s Edge, a community youth choir formed by the BBC Proms and the Glasshouse International Centre for Music during lockdown, and London LGBTQ+ chamber choir, the Fourth Choir. Further choral highlights across the summer include performances of Verdi’s Requiem, Britten’s War Requiem and Bach’s St John Passion.

Glyndebourne Opera is bringing its new production of Bizet's Carmen, with Rihab Chaieb and Evan LeRoy Johnson conducted by Anja Bihmaier, and for the first time Garsington Opera is bringing a production, so we get a chance to hear their new production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream with Iestyn Davies and Lucy Crowe, conducted by Douglas Boyd.

This year, 23 premieres and BBC commissions/co-commissions will be performed. Composers Thomas Ades, Anna Clyne, Sarah Class, Francisco Coll, Sarah Gibson, Dani Howard, Sir Karl Jenkins, Cassandra Miller, Ben Nobuto, Laura Poe, Steve Reich, Carlos Simon, Asteryth Sloane, Laura Poe, Elizabeth Kelly and Eric Whitacre each have a premiere or UK premiere. Hans Abrahamsen's Horn Concerto, Julius Eastman’s Symphony No. 2 and Mary Lou Williams’s Zodiac Suite will be performed in the UK for the first time. Sir Mark Elder marks his retirement from the Hallé with a performance of Sir James MacMillan's Timotheus, Bacchus and Cecilia. Other music by contemporary composers featured includes Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Cello Concerto, and pieces by Heiner Goebbels, Missy Mazzoli, Erkki-Sven Tüür.

The First Night includes Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto, with Isata Kanneh-Mason, and later on Benjamin Grosvenor is the soloist in Busoni's gargantuan Piano Concerto and there is more Busoni with his Concert Overture. Other unusual works included Zemlinsky's The Mermaid, Grace William's Concert Overture, Louise Farrenc's Overture No. 1 and Symphony No. 3, a work by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's daughter Avril, music by Grażyna Bacewicz and Augusta Holmes, Josef Suk's mammoth Asrael Symphony performed by the Czech Philharmonic, 

Column inches have already been expanded on this year's collaborations with non-classical performers. Frankly, they make an interesting mix.

  • Florence Welch, of indie-rock band Florence + The Machine, makes her BBC Proms debut, and only UK appearance this year, to perform her lauded BRIT Award-winning 2009 album 
  • Lungs, with Jules Buckley and his orchestra
  • Jordan Rakei makes his BBC Proms debut with Robert Ames and the Royal Northern Sinfonia at the Glasshouse International Centre for Music. Academy Award-winning artist
  • Sam Smith makes their BBC Proms debut at the Royal Albert Hall, their only live UK appearance this year, performing their own music in new orchestral arrangements. 
  • After the success of the 2023 Northern Soul Prom, this year’s opening weekend will feature the first ever Disco Prom, celebrating disco music of the late 1970s during the era of New York’s Studio 54. 
  • Three Proms pay tribute to the work and legacies of iconic musicians:  folk-rock artist Nick Drake, jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and film composer Henry Mancini, each of whom have significant anniversaries this year and whose Proms will feature exciting soloists.
  • Tinariwen performs a Late Night Prom, featuring their pioneering mix of traditional Tuareg and African music with Western rock music
Booking opens on 18 May 2024, full details from the BBC website.  

Named for the 1996 Pride party on Clapham Common, Omnibus Theatre's 96 Festival is back for its ninth year and we're presenting 'Out of the Shadows' there

96 Festival at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham

In 1996, the Pride festival took place on Clapham Common and attracted 250,000 to party on the Common. In celebration of this, Omnibus Theatre, Clapham created its 96 Festival, a celebration of queerness and theatre. The festival returns to Omnibus for June with a whole range of acts.

We are pleased to be presenting Out of the Shadows at 96 Festival on 16 June 2024, when Ben Vonberg-Clark (tenor), Jonathan Eyers (baritone) and Nigel Foster (piano) will be performing a programme of my music including the cantatas Out of the Shadows, inspired by reading a history of gay life in the 19th century, and Et expecto, about a desperate search for eternal life, plus love songs setting Black American poet Carl Cook and Michelangelo. 

You can get a taster of the programme with Ben Vonberg-Clark and Nigel Foster on YouTube.

Read all about 96 Festival in the online brochure.

Thursday 25 April 2024

A German in Venice - Schütz alongside music he could have heard in Venice, a wonderfully life-affirming disc

Schütz: A German in Venice - Schütz, Monteverdi, Rossi, Sances, Grandi, Cavalli; David de Winter, The Brook Street Band; FHR

Schütz: A German in Venice - Schütz, Monteverdi, Rossi, Grandi, Cavalli, Sances; David de Winter, The Brook Street Band, FHR;
Reviewed 24 April 2024

A wonderfully engaging and life-affirming disc which mixed Schütz's music with pieces he might have heard whilst he was in Venice in the 1620s

Heinrich Schütz had a huge life, born in 1585, the year that Thomas Tallis died and with Palestrina, Victoria and Guerrero still at the peak of their powers, he died in 1672 not long before the births of Telemann, Bach and Handel. His life encompassed the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), work in Dresden and Copenhagen including writing what might have been Germany's first opera, as well as years of study in Venice.

Schütz would spent two periods in Venice, 1609 to 1612 when he studied with Giovanni Gabrieli (the only person Schütz ever called his teacher) and secondly from 1628 (after Gabrieli's death) when Schütz was fleeing war-torn Dresden. It is this latter period that tantalises as there is no documentation for Schütz meeting Monteverdi yet one can see parallels and Schütz's music must have had an effect in Venice as his Symphoniae Sacrae I was first published there in 1629.

It is this Venetian Schütz that is the focus of Schütz: A German in Venice from tenor David de Winter and The Brook Street Band on FHR. On the disc, de Winter and the Brook Street Band perform motets by Schütz from Symphoniae Sacrae I (1629) and Symphoniae Sacrae II (1647) alongside music by Monteverdi, Salamone Rossi, Giovanni Felice Sances, Alessandro Grandi, and Francesco Cavalli.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Summer at Snape, Britten Pears Arts' series of events at Snape returns for 2024

Summer at Snape, Britten Pears Arts' series of events at Snape returns for 2024 with 50 events from 26 July to 31 August.

Summer at Snape, Britten Pears Arts' series of events at Snape returns for 2024 with 50 events from 26 July to 31 August. 

Visiting orchestras include John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London in Britten and Walton, Simon Over and Southbank Sinfonia in Brahms and Rachmaninoff, Peter Whelan and Irish Baroque Orchestra in a programme of Baroque classics, Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra in Elgar and Sibelius, and BBC Concert Orchestra presenting Friday Night is Music Night

Visiting artists include violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien in Beethoven, Janáček, Enescu, and Barry, pianist Alim Beisembayev - Winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha and pianist Simon Lepper in Mahler, Wagner, and South African songs, guitarist Milos and pianist Stephen Hough.

Other visitors include the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, Black Dyke Band, United Strings of Europe,  Apollo5 and The Gesualdo Six in a programme exploring music of Gesualdo.

Events include Women’s Stories from the Ancient World is a newly devised sequence of words and music curated by soprano Nardus Williams and renowned classicist Mary Beard with lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, I, Clara, presented by pianist Lucy Parham and actor Harriet Walter, an exploration of the remarkable life of Clara Schumann.

Young artists in the series include Suffolk Youth Orchestra in Britten and Rimsky-Korsakov, Aldeburgh Young Musicians, an artist development programme for musicians aged 10-18, Apollo5 leading Explore Your Voice, a workshop offering singers the chance to enhance their vocal capabilities and engage in group singing, VOICEBOX and soprano Juliet Fraser's Unbound project [see my interview with Juliet], Britten Pears Young Artists present their End of Course Recital and Bandstand at The Maltings, hosted on the Henry Moore Lawn, spotlights local talent from across Suffolk programmed by Britten Pears Arts and young creatives.

Full details from Britten Pears Arts website.

Schoenberg: Exploring New Worlds - Lewes Chamber Music Festival 2024

Schoenberg: Exploring New Worlds - Lewes Chamber Music Festival 2024
The 13th Lewes Chamber Music Festival takes place from 6 to 8 June 2024 with artistic director Beatrice Philips bringing together 18 of today's most exciting chamber-musicians and soloists to explore the musical ties between Europe and America through celebrating the 150th birthdays of Arnold Schoenberg and Charles Ives, including Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 and Ode to Napoleon with actor Samuel West, and rare chamber versions of larger scale works by Richard Strauss and Mahler.

The weekend opens with early piano quartets by Mahler and Richard Strauss along with music by Elliott Carter and Anton Webern's quintet arrangement of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No.1, and there is more Schoenberg with a late-night performance of Verklärte Nacht. And the festival will include more Schoenberg along with performances of music by Berg, Zemlinsky, Schulhoff, Korngold, Hindemith, Brahms, Ives, Amy Beach and Gershwin.

A wonderfully ambitious gala concert features Guido Martin-Brandis' arrangement of the magical closing scenes from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier with singers Hilary Cronin and Elinor Rolfe Johnson and Erwin Stein's chamber arrangement of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 for 12 musicians with Hilary Cronin returning for the soprano solo in the finale.

The final concert features another rare performance, this time of Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon with actor Samuel West, plus Beethoven's Septet and Charles Ives' Largo for clarinet, piano and violin.

Full details from the festival website.

Enriching, uplifting, entertaining & inclusive: Paradox Orchestra to perform at Sheffield Cathedral in support of the Archer Project

The Paradox Orchestra (Photo: Elizabeth Brown)
The Paradox Orchestra (Photo: Elizabeth Brown)

The Yorkshire-based Paradox Orchestra, whose founder Michael Sluman I chatted to recently [see my interview 'No boundaries or rules'], is presenting a series of concerts for charitable causes across Yorkshire, including two upcoming concerts in aid of the homeless in Sheffield in the magnificent setting of Sheffield Cathedral. 

The orchestra will perform its 50 Years of Pink Floyd programme at the cathedral on 16 May and their Fleetwood Mac programme on 12 July. The concerts will raise funds and awareness for the Cathedral's Archer Project, which supports the homeless in Sheffield, are part of the cathedral’s commitment to being a ‘place for all’, bringing communities together with shared cultural events.

Michael Sluman, commented: "Classical music is proven to have a profound effect on our wellbeing. We want to ensure the artform is accessible to all, and to remind audiences that we have a shared humanity. We promise a soulful, enriching, uplifting, entertaining and inclusive experience."

There are further performances of the Pink Floyd programme at Selby Abbey on 11 May and Huddersfield Town Hall on 17 May.

Full details of all the orchestra's concerts from EventBrite.

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Disruptors: BBC Young Musician Keyboard Category Final winner Ethan Loch joins Manchester Camerata for music by Beethoven and local composer Carmel Smickersgill

Ethan Loch at the BBC Young Musician 2022 Final (Photo: BBC)
Ethan Loch at the BBC Young Musician 2022 Final (Photo: BBC)

For their next performance in Manchester, the Manchester Camerata is changing their base of operations and giving a concert in the Albert Hall on Thursday 2 May 2024. Performing in the round, the orchestra will be conducted by young Irish conductor, Karen Ní Bhroin in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 8, plus a new work by Manchester-based composer Carmel Smickersgill

Smickersgill studied composition with Gary Carpenter at the RNCM in Manchester, and is now an associate member of the college, and she has written works for Liverpool Philharmonic's ensemble 10/10,  Laura Bowler, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Das Neue Ensemble, Galvanize Ensemble, and the Equilibrium Quartet.

The soloist in the piano concerto will be Ethan Loch, the 20-year-old pianist who won the BBC Young Musician Keyboard Category Final in 2022. Diagnosed blind since birth, Ethan Loch has had a unique learning curve to master his instrument.

The evening will also include a performance from schools taking part in the orchestra's Create with Camerata programme, where Camerata musicians and a composer teamed up with over 400 pupils from 15 schools across Stafford, Stoke and Telford to write their own music inspired by Roald Dahl’s classic book, Matilda with the results being performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cannock.

Full details from the Manchester Camerata's website.

Attention must be paid: the Engegård Quartet at Conway Hall in Mozart, Bartok, Maja Ratkje, and Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Hensel (Mendelssohn) in 1842
Fanny Hensel (Mendelssohn) in 1842

Mozart, Bartok, Maja Ratkje, Fanny Mendelssohn; Engegård Quartet; Conway Hall
Reviewed 21 April 2024

Playing of extraordinary vividness and presence by the Norwegian ensemble in a programme moving from Mozart and Fanny Mendelssohn to Bartok and contemporary Norwegian compose Maja Ratkje

The Engegård Quartet (Arvid Engegård, Laura Custodio Sabas, Juliet Jopling, Jan Clemens Carlsen) was at Conway Hall on Sunday 21 April 2024 as part of a UK tour which sees the quartet giving the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert on 26 April from LSO St Luke's

At Conway Hall, the Norwegian ensemble played a programme that began with Mozart's Quartet No.22 in B♭ "Prussian" K.589 followed by Bartok's Quartet No.3 Sz.85, then A Tale of Lead and Light by contemporary Norwegian composer Maja Ratkje and finally Fanny Mendelssohn's Quartet in E flat. Before the concert, I gave a talk Three Contrasting Composers, exploring Fanny Mendelssohn, Bartok and Maja Ratkje and the background to their works.

Monday 22 April 2024

Holst 150, complete Shostakovich quartets, Gilbert & Sullivan's The Sorcerer: Lichfield Festival 2024

The Hub at St Mary's - Brodsky Quartet at Lichfield Festival, July 2023 (Photo: Tyler Whiting)
The Hub at St Mary's - Brodsky Quartet at Lichfield Festival, July 2023 (Photo: Tyler Whiting)

The Lichfield Festival returns for ten days of classical, folk, world, jazz, cabaret and popular music, theatre, dance and the written word from 4 to 14 July 2024. The 2024 festival opens with Rachel Podger (violin) and her ensemble Brecon Baroque in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  

A 150th anniversary celebration of Gustav Holst includes Egdon Heath from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Ryan Bancroft (along with Brahms and Elgar's Cello Concerto) and the Carice Singers’ Stargazers programme includes Holst's The Evening Watch. And there will be Holst arrangements from BBC Folk Musician of the Year Will Pound and percussionist Delia Stevens. 

Pianist Danny Driver plays two recitals, closing the Festival with candle-lit Bach in the Cathedral.  Other chamber music highlights are the complete Shostakovich quartets from Brodsky Quartet spread over a single weekend, Oz Clarke and Armonico Consort’s light-hearted look at music and wine A Second Sip, and a late night concert by 2024 RPS Instrumental award-winning sitar player Jasdeep Singh Degun.  

Recorder quartet Palisander’s historical concert experience follows the wives of Henry VIII in Divorced, Beheaded, Died, and still in an historical bent, Lesley Smith presents the story of Mary Queen of Scots in full Elizabethan costume, and and The Lord Chamberlain’s Men perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the open air, in period costume, with an all-male cast, just as it would have been in Elizabeth I’s day.  

The popular Midlands Choir of the Year returns with the final taking place in the Cathedral.  For younger audiences, Waterperry Opera returns with Peter and The Wolf, and music, art and drama projects on the theme of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons take place with local schools for this year’s Aspire! community and participation programme.

All that, plus 10 young artist concerts and Charles Court Opera’s latest G&S production The Sorcerer, not to mention the Festival Fireworks which are FREE to all at Beacon Park on Friday 12 July, in collaboration with Fuse/Lichfield Arts.

Full details from the festival website.

The Celestial Stranger: new song cycle inspired by Thomas Traherne's recently discovered manuscript

Joana Carneiro & Gavan Ring
Joana Carneiro & Gavan Ring
Thomas Traherne was a Herefordshire clergyman who died in 1674 aged 38. Known now as a poet to equal his great contemporary religious writers John Donne, George Herbert and Henry Vaughan, his works had been substantially lost and are only recently being rediscovered. His Centuries of Meditation was only rediscovered in 1898, other volumes turned up but the biggest cache of his work was found only as recently as 1997 at Lambeth Palace Library where they were catalogued as anonymous. Amongst these works is a 42-chapter treatise entitled The Kingdom of God which includes The Celestial Stranger, where Traherne imagines a visitor from a distant universe visiting earth and being held in wonder by its riches and beauty.

Musically, Traherne is perhaps best known as the poet for Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis which draws on three Traherne poems plus text from Centuries of Meditation.

Traherne's The Celestial Stranger is now the inspiration for a song-cycle by composer Stephen McNeff written for tenor Gavan Ring. McNeff describes the cycle as developing "beyond the utopian world as our stranger realises the existence of tyranny and warfare - forcing them to take their leave. An obvious metaphor for what we are doing to the planet, perhaps, but no less relevant of that…". The work is a joint BBC Radio 3 and National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland) commission and the Dublin premiere will be next year.

Stephen McNeff's The Celestial Stranger will be premiered by Gavan Ring and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Joana Carneiro at Hodinott Hall, Cardiff on 16 May 2024 as part of a concert including Gabriel Fauré's Pelléas et Mélisande (music from the Maurice Maeterlinck that would inspire Debussy's opera), and Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. Full details from the BBC website.

Opera as it ought to be: Mozart's Don Giovanni from Hurn Court Opera

Mozart: Don Giovanni - Hurn Court Opera (Photo: Patrick Frost, BlackStar Pictures)
Mozart: Don Giovanni - Hurn Court Opera (Photo: Patrick Frost, BlackStar Pictures)

Mozart: Don Giovanni: Sam Young, Samuel Lom, Lizzie Rydeer, Daniel Gray Bell, Hanna O'Brien, Harrison Chéné-Gration, Tilly Goodwin, William Stevens, dir: Joy Robinson, cond: Lynton Atkinson; Hurn Court Opera at Theatre Royal, Winchester
Reviewed by James McConnachie, 11 April 2024

A dedicated group of vastly talented singers – young singers – riding on the delight of an audience that was evidently as full of newbies as buffs

Even lifelong opera-lovers can sometimes feel dispirited. Opera survives on the support and generosity and love of a generation born within 20 years of the war – but anyone looking around them in the stalls, or the grand tier, or the balcony or, frankly, even the amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House might be forgiven for wondering where the next generation is going to come from. Is it economics that is keeping out the young and even the middle-aged? Is it the repertoire? The ambience? Or, worse, is it that younger people just don’t like the music?

I hope not, though it is fashionable to denigrate, or just ignore, supposedly ‘elite’ forms of art. And sometimes opera really does not help itself, with its persistent black-tie conventions and champagne-swilling intervals. Country house opera, in particular, can make you feel as if you’re not really part of it unless you’ve dropped a quarter of a million in patronage and packed the right sort of picnic.

All of which partly explains why Hurn Court Opera’s performance of Don Giovanni was the most uplifting, inspiring and enjoyable night at the opera I’ve had in years. Hurn Court Opera presented Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Theatre Royal, Winchester on 11 April 2024 with Sam Young as Don Giovanni, Samuel Lom as Leporello, Lizzie Ryder as Donna Anna, Daniel Gray Bell as Don Ottavio, Hannah O’Brien as Donna Elvira, Harrison Chéné-Gration as Masetto, Tilly Goodwin as Zerlina, and William Stevens as the Commendatore, conducted by Lynton Atkinson and directed by Joy Robinson.

This was opera as it ought to be: a dedicated group of vastly talented singers – young singers – riding on the delight of an audience that was evidently as full of newbies as buffs, and was conspicuously short on the Bollinger-and-banking crowd.

Mozart: Don Giovanni - Hurn Court Opera (Photo: Patrick Frost, BlackStar Pictures)
Mozart: Don Giovanni - Hurn Court Opera (Photo: Patrick Frost, BlackStar Pictures)

Saturday 20 April 2024

A Leeds Songbook and a showcase performance: Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2024

Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2024 at Howard Assembly Room
Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2024 at Howard Assembly Room

Composers & Poets Forum Showcase: A Leeds Songbook; Leeds Lieder Festival at Leeds Minster
Reviewed 17 April 2024

Young Artists Showcase: Leeds Lieder Festival at Howard Assembly Room
Reviewed 19 April 2024

First a programme of specially written new song and then a chance to shine in their chosen repertoire, and for us to experience some fine young voices and performers really stretching themselves.

Leeds Lieder Festival certainly keeps its Young Artists busy. They arrived in Leeds on Sunday not only have they been taking part in masterclasses and a final showcase performance at Opera North's Howard Assembly Room on 19 April 2024 when each duo performed their own selection of songs, but on 17 April 2024 at Leeds Minster they presented this year's instalment of A Leeds Songbook.

The Composers & Poets Forum Showcase at Leeds Minster on 17 April featured ten new songs by student composers collaborating with local poets to create ten further contributions to A Leeds Songbook. Each song was written for the Young Artist duo that performed it. Before each song, the poet read their words to give us more of an idea of content.

A day at Leeds Lieder Festival: Fauré, Boulanger, Mahler and more

Gabriel Fauré by John Singer Sargent, 1889
Gabriel Fauré by John Singer Sargent, 1889

Lecture recital: Gabriel Fauré and his mélodies; Graham Johnson, Sarah Fox, Florian Störtz; Leeds Lieder Festival at The Venue, Leeds Conservatoire
Gabriel Fauré, Lili Boulanger, Mahler, Roger Quilter, Muriel Herbert; James Gilchrist, Anna Tilbrook; Leeds Lieder Festival at The Venue, Leeds Conservatoire
Reviewed 18 April 2024

A day of French song with a focus on Fauré, with Graham Johnson making us love the composer's late period, and James Gilchrist in fine form, from elegant Fauré to perfumed Boulanger, Mahler in comic mode and Roger Quilter with his heart on his sleeve

Thursday 18 April was A Day of French Song at Leeds Lieder Festival. In the morning the festival's Young Artists had a public masterclass with soprano Dame Felicity Lott concentrating on French repertoire, then at lunchtime pianist Graham Johnson was joined by soprano Sarah Fox and baritone Florian Störtz for a lecture recital on Gabriel Fauré and his mélodies, and Johnson went on join the Young Artists for a further masterclass in the afternoon. The evening recital was given by tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook with songs by Fauré and Lili Boulanger alongside those of Mahler, Roger Quilter and Muriel Herbert. Though it was perhaps unfortunate that Johnson and Gilchrist's choice of Fauré songs overlapped rather. Impressively, the whole day was live-streamed and is available to view on the festival's YouTube channel.

For the lunchtime lecture recital in The Venue, Leeds Conservatoire's handsome recital hall, Graham Johnson took an historical approach to Fauré and his mélodies (109 of them, written between 1861 and 1921), beginning with his first surviving song and working through to his last song cycle, dividing the composer's output into periods each illustrated with songs from Sarah Fox and Florian Störtz. But Johnson also explained why the songs were like they are, what makes Fauré so distinctive. Johnson deftly interwove speech and song, moving from piano to lectern and back, and his delivery was impressively succinct yet engaging and informative, with a nice ear for a well-turned, memorable phrase. By the end we felt we understood Fauré's song output a lot more and wanted to explore further, particularly the late period about which Johnson was passionate.

Thursday 18 April 2024

Engaging the audience: James Newby and Joseph Middleton in a folk-inspired programme at a cool Leeds café/bar

Leeds Lieder 2024 - Joseph Middleton, James Newby - Through the Noise at Hyde Park Book Club
Leeds Lieder 2024 - Joseph Middleton, James Newby - Through the Noise at Hyde Park Book Club

Matyas Seiber, John Jacob Niles, Thomas Traill, Joseph Suder, Percy Grainger, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Ravel: Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques, Mahler: Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen; James Newby, Joseph Middleton; Leeds Lieder & Through the Noise at Hyde Park Book Club
17 April 2024

A new collaboration sees Leeds Lieder at a cool café/bar with an engaging and beautifully sung programme of songs inspired by folk-music

A former fuel storage tank is not the usual venue for a song recital, but Hyde Park Book Club is no usual venue and last night's recital there (17 April 2024) by baritone James Newby and pianist Joseph Middleton was a collaboration between Leeds Lieder (of which Middleton is the artistic director) and Through the Noise, the organisation that promotes its concerts, noisenights, via a distinctive crowdfunding model. The recital was all of folk-inspired music, from Matyas Seiber, John Jacob Niles, Thomas Traill, Joseph Suder, Percy Grainger, Vaughan Williams and Britten, plus Ravel's Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques and Mahler's Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen.

The room was small, and needed discreet amplification to provide the right sort of acoustic, but this was sensitively and naturally done. There was a magnificent grand piano, lent for the occasion and not what you usually expect to find in the basement of a café/bar! Hyde Park Book Club is a café, bar and venue based in a former petrol station, hence the former fuel storage tank. A friendly and casual upstairs bar provided refreshment and sustenance before the event and somewhere to chat to the performers afterwards.

Leeds Lieder 2024 - James Newby - Through the Noise at Hyde Park Book Club
Leeds Lieder 2024 - James Newby - Through the Noise at Hyde Park Book Club
(Photo: Tom Arber)

The event was sold out, so there was a packed, standing audience. Sight-lines were at a premium but I am assured that even from the back the sound was good and throughout the evening James Newby's diction was superb, we heard every word and if you are doing a programme inspired by folk-music then you need that. Newby built on the casual atmosphere, chatting to the audience in a way that was informative, yet entertainingly self-deprecating; I have never heard the word 'wanky' used as an adjective (to describe his explanation of the raison d'etre of the programme) on the concert platform before!

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Southbank Centre's new season: Schoenberg's 150th, the OAE in Bruckner, Joyce Didonato in Berlioz, The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim

Igor Levit (Photo: Felix Broede )
Igor Levit (Photo: Felix Broede )

The Southbank Centre has announced its Autumn/Winter programme for 2024/25 which includes a five-day Opening Weekend, residencies from violist Lawrence Power, organist James McVinnie and Manchester Collective, and visitors include Yuja Wang and Víkingur Ólafsson, the Borodin Quartet celebrating its 80th anniversary, Concerto Italiano, The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and the BBC Concert Orchestra with Unclassified Live.

The Opening Weekend, from 25 to 29 September 2024, features Joyce DiDonato in Berlioz with Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia launching its Nordic Soundscapes series with Sibelius, Grieg and María Sigfúsdóttir conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali, violist Lawrence Power and composer Thomas Ades, the Multi-Storey Orchestra, cellist Matthew Barley, the Paraorchestra, and the Scottish Ensemble. Pianist Igor Levit performs works by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven in his Royal Festival Hall solo recital debut.

Lawrence Power will continue his residency by joining forces with composer/soprano Heloise Werner and lutenist Sergio Bucheli, and Power is the soloist in the UK premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Viola Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Manchester Collective continues its residency with collaborations with pianist extraordinaire Zubin Kanga and cellist phenomenon Abel Selacoe. Organist James McVinnie [see my recent interview with him] continues his residency with Stanford, Byrd, and Liszt on the RFH organ, and Bach on organ and piano.

Daniel Barenboim will be conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, Chineke! perform music by Florence Price (the UK premiere of her Symphony No. 4!), Eleanor Alberga, Valerie Coleman and Brian Raphael Nabor, the London Symphony Orchestra pairs Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 with Schoenberg's A survivor in Warsaw, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will be burning the candle at both ends, presenting all of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and performing Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 (not in the same programme!).

The London Sinfonietta is celebrating Schoenberg's 150th anniversary, with Jonathan Berman conducting the Ode to Napoleon (no, I've never heard that live either) and Chamber Symphony. They will be joined by the Royal Academy of Music's Manson Ensemble for a performance of Morton Feldman's For Samuel Beckett. The Philharmonia Orchestra's Music of Today will feature conductor Chloe Rooke and soprano Ella Taylor in Saariaho’s Semafor and Hans Abrahmsen’s Two Inger Christensen Songs. The London Philharmonic Orchestra's season will include Evan Williams’ Dead White Man Music (Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Ensemble), and Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan performs his own concerto Samaagam alongside a new overture by Reena Esmail and selections from film soundtracks by AR Rahman.

The full season is available via the Southbank Centre website.

For David, on his birthday: Ben Vonberg-Clark & Nigel Foster in a taster for Out of the Shadows at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham

In June, we are presenting Out of the Shadows at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham as part of 96 Festival, its celebration of queerness and theatre. Out of the Shadows is an evening of my music, featuring two recent cantatas and a selection of my songs performed by tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark, baritone Jonathan Eyers and pianist Nigel Foster.

As a little taster, here are two songs from my song cycle, For David, on his Birthday performed by Ben Vonberg-Clark and Nigel Foster and recorded at Hinde Street Methodist Church in 2023 when Out of the Shadows was premiered. The recording engineer Christopher Braine. The video is available on YouTube.

In the 1990s I came across two book of poems by the Black American poet Carl Cook, The Tranquil Lake of Love and postscripts. I used his poems for the chorales in my Passion setting, and set seven of them as annual birthday presents for my boyfriend (and now husband) David. Here we hear 'to see you happy' and 'perhaps', this latter was a finalist in the English Poetry and Song Society's Diamond Songs competition, organised to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. 

Out of the Shadows is at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham at 7pm on Sunday 16 June 2024, with tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark, baritone Jonathan Eyers, pianist Nigel Foster. Further information from the theatre website.

A City Full of Stories: Anna Phillips on her work with Academy of St Martin in the Fields' SoundWalk

Illustrations of SoundWalk by Ruby Wright
Illustrations of SoundWalk by Ruby Wright

Anna Phillips is a harpist who is currently studying for a Master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music. She had the opportunity to take part in the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields' SoundWalk project as part of an elective with the Open Academy Department at the Royal Academy of Music.

The Connection at St. Martin’s is a day centre that supports homeless people to help rebuild their lives, through helping them on their way out of homelessness and through artistic programmes. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (ASMF) chamber orchestra has been running music workshops with homeless people in various venues across London, including The Connection, for 25 years. Jackie Walduck, who leads these workshops, is also a lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music. She has been leading the Academy’s partnership with this initiative, which is set to continue into the foreseeable future.  

The music programmes at The Connection are open to anyone who comes to the day centre. It is an environment where participants can connect with each other and explore their own voice and creativity through music and other creative workshops. 

My involvement came through the Open Academy Department, the Royal Academy of Music’s community and participation department. I was involved with the creation of a Soundwalk, an undertaking which not only marks 25 years of the ASMF working with the homeless community, but also part of the celebrations for the centenary of the orchestra’s founder, Sir Neville Marriner. The Soundwalk includes music composed by the clients from the centre, as well as the opportunity for incorporating lyrics or spoken word with the guidance of writer, Hazel Gould. This special project was recorded and will be available to listen to digitally while walking around St Martin in the Field’s and Covent Garden. 

Going into this experience, I was looking forward to meeting everyone involved. My hope was to make meaningful musical contributions to the group, as well as get to know each individual through musical explorations and improvisations together.  My first session at The Connection was the third session of the term. As part of this workshop, we started exploring words to create a song. It can feel vulnerable to contribute an idea, but the workshop space creates an environment where everyone can contribute in any way. There were lots of participants in this session and some lovely connections were made. For example, two participants began playing together in a call and response way, which happened organically, and it was lovely to see. Another was full of ideas, and he encouraged others too.

The next session I attended was divided into two parts: music and writing. Jackie warmed up the group with musical games, such as a call and response rhythm game and a warm-up jam. In these warm-ups you could hear how each person was feeling depending on how they would play their instrument. I enjoyed the warm-up jams because there was a space for each person to play a short musical improvisation. This reminded me why I enjoyed playing music as a child, because I was able to express myself without having to articulate it in words. Now that music is my career, it can be easier to lose sight of the playfulness and creativity of it. It has reminded me to play the harp for the child within me, who expressed herself with no self-judgement. Hazel then came to do a writing workshop to encourage lyric writing. We were split into smaller groups and each given an object. We were thinking about the story behind the object and if the object were to have feelings, what they might be. By the end of the session, we had created a verse that we spoke together; some people spoke the lyrics on their own which was a very special moment.

The last session I attended was more focused on rehearsing all our ideas for the song to be recorded for the Soundwalk in two weeks’ time. The harp seemed to act as a linchpin for the group as I was able to outline the harmony which grounded the song in this workshop. I worked with the rhythm section to ground the harmony, and then the other two groups explored drumming rhythms and a melody.

It was a wonderful experience to be a part of this project, and to witness such a welcoming space was really special. Being able to show up, be your authentic self and be able to participate in any way you like with no judgement is truly amazing. You can see the confidence it builds and the joy it brings to each person. I have been reminded that music doesn’t have to be complicated to be powerful, and everyone can write music or lyrics, especially when it comes from the heart. The only way to create in this way is to be in a safe and encouraging space, which is exactly what music at The Connection is.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields' SoundWalk A City Full of Stories is a free, immersive audio experience part of the Marriner 100 Celebrations. To take part in the SoundWalk, visit St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, and scan the QR code

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Das Jahr: OAE commissions four women composers to respond to Fanny Hensel's piano cycle

April from the manuscript of Fanny Hensel's Das Jahr (illustration by Wilhelm Hensel)
'April' from the manuscript of Fanny Hensel's Das Jahr (illustration by Wilhelm Hensel)

Though we might wish it otherwise, works by historical women composers often cleave to certain genres, often related to the fact that women were not encouraged to publish music and wrote for more domestic performance. There is also the issue of confidence in approach to larger-scale forms. This weekend (21 April 2024), for instance, the Engegård Quartet will be playing Fanny Hensel's Quartet in E flat at Conway Hall [see website for details, including my pre-concert talk]. She only wrote one mature quartet, it had one private performance after which her brother Felix took exception to her rather free approach to form and she never wrote another one. 

This means that ensembles that rely on historical composers must draw on a relatively small pool of works in a particular genre or attempt to widen the pool by adding works by unknown composers. This can be a slow process, and a tricky one. For historical reasons the number of, say, piano concertos by 19th century women composers is relatively small because, let's face it, who is going to write a piano concerto unless there is the possibility of getting it performed.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) has taken a leap sideways when it comes to expanding the repertoire. Focusing on Fanny Hensel's 1841 piano cycle, Das Jahr, the OAE has commissioned four contemporary women composers to write works inspired by the cycle. Fanny Hensel described Das Jahr as "small work that is giving me much fun", so the OAE is having the complete cycle played on fortepiano by Olga Pashchenko and has then commissioned Roxanna Panufnik, Electra Perivolaris, Freya Waley-Cohen and Errollyn Wallen to respond to movements from the work, writing for an orchestra of the period.

Das Jahr was something of a family project. Fanny Hensel wrote 13 pieces, one for each month and a prelude, each prefaced by a poetical quote and a specially created illustration by her husband, the artist Wilhelm Hensel.  Electra Perivolaris will take 'March' as her starting point, followed by a contribution inspired by 'April' from Errollyn Wallen. Freya Waley-Cohen's commission will draw on "her beautiful and elegant June serenade with visitations or memories of the darkly playful February scherzo". Finally, Roxanna Panufnik will compose a piece inspired by the closing movement, 'Nachspiel', which she says "appealed to me with its intense focus on harmony which moves and never really settles until the very end."

Clockwise from top left: Roxanna Panufnik, Olga Pashchenko, Electra Perivolaris, Fanny Mendelssohn, Errollyn Wallen, Freya Waley-Cohen.
Clockwise from top left: Roxanna Panufnik, Olga Pashchenko, Electra Perivolaris, Fanny Mendelssohn, Errollyn Wallen, Freya Waley-Cohen.

Further details from the OAE website.

A Spring and Summer of new opera: Tête à Tête's plans for 2024

Tête à Tête

Tête à Tête is not just planning its Summer opera festival in London but is creating a whole Spring and Summer of opera. In May, the company is heading to Newcastle, joining forces with members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia for two days of workshops for opera makers, aimed at encouraging the development of new opera in the North East
[further information]

June sees the company in London working with student composers from the Royal College of Music (RCM) to present Revolutions, an evening of six short operas by RCM composers performed by RCM students. The programme being presented on 24, 26 and 27 June 2024 includes The Anthem by Jasper Eaglesfield, who is also featured in the RCM Philharmonic’s Orchestral Masterworks concert on 18 April, and Fanny and Stella’s Last Day Out by Jasper Dommett, whose music was praised in The Scotsman for its ‘crystalline gestures’ and ‘languid lyricism’, plus works by Ed Driver, Connie Harris, Jasmine Morris and Alisa Zaika [further information].

July sees the company back in the North East, continuing its work with Royal Northern Sinfonia and presenting Gala 2024 in North Shields, a spectacular choral and opera concert featuring 200 local participants, including 70 primary school children, on 7 July 2024 [further information]

The annual Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival returns to London from 24 August to 29 September 2024 with premieres from across the UK. The full line-up will be announced in June. And at home in Cornwall, Tête à Tête returns to the Minack Theatre in Penzance for two concert performances of Ethyl Smyth’s The Boatswain's Mate on 10 and 12 September which will feature a community chorus [further information]

Artistic Director Bill Bankes-Jones expressed the excitement for the season: "After a comparatively quiet year in 2023, it’s really thrilling to contemplate the huge amount and extent of work we’ll be making in 2024, and really inspiring to reflect how much of it will connect artists, participants and audience with the stories of our time."  

The sound of an image: recent chamber music by New York City-based, Puerto Rican-born composer Gabriel Vicéns

Mural: chamber music by Gabriel Vicéns; Stradivarius
Mural: chamber music by Gabriel Vicéns; Stradivarius
Reviewed 15 April 2024

At times fierce and concentrated, Gabriel Vicéns music can evoke Webern and Feldman, but it also brings in his own visual element

New York City-based, Puerto Rican-born composer, guitarist, and visual artist Gabriel Vicéns' fourth studio album Mural, released on the Stradivarius label, features seven of Vicéns chamber pieces for various ensembles including piano trio, Pierrot ensemble, and woodwind quintet. 

Gabriel Vicéns is a gifted guitarist and improvisor, as well as performing with a free jazz/experimental ensemble. He is also a painter [see his website], and you feel that many of these different aspects coalesce in this sharply imagined a crisply austere music.

The first track is Mural (2021) for clarinet, violin, and piano, performed by clarinettist Raissa Fahlman, violinist Joenne Dumitrascu, and pianist Corinne Penner. Vicéns constructs the piece out of motifs and fragments, rhythmic motifs on piano under pinning everything. Rhythm approaches the jazzy, but the work is more about individual points of instrumental colour. Perhaps there is something quasi-Webern about the compression of Vicéns' imagination, and the work unfolds with something of a coolness.

Monday 15 April 2024

Bloom: Bill Laurance and The Untold Orchestra, from Snarky Puppy to music-making with 18-piece string orchestra. My spotlight:

Pianist/composer Bill Laurance is perhaps best known as a member of the band Snarky Puppy, but he recently joined forces with Manchester-based The Untold Orchestra to release a disc of his music combining the 18-piece string orchestra, conducted by Rory Storm and led by Simmy Singh of the Manchester Collective, with Laurance's keyboards. Whilst he played jazz and swing as a teenager, Laurance studied classical music, composition and performance at the University of Leeds.

The new disc, Bloom is released on the ACT label and features nine tracks recorded in Manchester. The disc's official video, Bloom has been released in advance for the full release on 26 April 2024. Full details from the ACT website.

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