Friday 31 May 2024

Back to the 1960s: Opera Holland Park returns to its 2008 production of Tosca and creates a satisfying evening in the theatre

Puccini: Tosca - Amanda Echalaz & Morgan Pearse - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Puccini: Tosca - Amanda Echalaz & Morgan Pearse - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Puccini: Tosca; Amanda Echalaz, José de Eça, Morgan Pearse, director: Stephen Barlow, conductor: Matthew Kofi Waldren, City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 30 May 2024

Transposed to the student ferment of Rome in 1968, this revival breathed remarkable life into the concept and showcased a trio of strong performances for a satisfying evening in the theatre

With this year's centenary of Puccini's death, Opera Holland Park (OHP) is celebrating a composer whose works play an important part in the company's output, both the popular ones and the lesser known. In February the company performed the Messa di Gloria in concert and in July they will revive his early rarity Edgar, however the season opened with Tosca, not in a new production but in a revival of Stephen Barlow's 2008 production which transposes the setting to Rome in 1968, with the original Tosca, Amanda Echalaz, returning to the role.

We caught the second performance of Puccini's Tosca at Opera Holland Park on Thursday 30 May 2024. The production was directed by Stephen Barlow and designed by Yannis Thavoris with lighting by Tim van 't Hof, Matthew Kofi Waldren conducted the City of London Sinfonia (celebrating 20 years as OHP's house band), with Amanda Echalaz as Tosca, José de Eça as Cavaradossi, Morgan Pearse as Scarpia, Edwin Kaye as Angelotti, Ross Ramgobin as the Sacristan, Phillip Costovski as Spoleta and Alex Jones as Sciarrone. The Opera Holland Park chorus was joined by children from the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and the Grey Coat Hospital School.

Puccini: Tosca - José de Eça - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Puccini: Tosca - José de Eça - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

The veristic detail of Puccini's opera presents a challenge to directors, particular towards the end of Act One. The music and the libretto seem to urge naturalism and realistic detail, yet getting the religious ceremonial both liturgically correct and dramatically coherent is a conundrum that few productions seriously solve. For me, the most satisfying, realistic Tosca production remains Anthony Besch's 1980 one for Scottish Opera, that remained in the company's repertoire for 30 years [details on the Opera Scotland website]. Not so much for the 1943 setting (brilliant though that was), but for the way Besch solved the Act One challenge. The alternative, of course, is to abandon realism and that is what made Edward Dick's recent production at Opera North so satisfying [see my review].

The brilliance of Barlow's production is that in solving the challenge of staging Tosca on OHP's stage, with a single set, he sidestepped many of the issues.

Thursday 30 May 2024

A celebration of African classical music: The African Concert Series returns to Wigmore Hall

The African Concert Series

Rebeca Omordia's African Concert Series is returning to Wigmore Hall on 20 July 2024 with a day of concerts featuring a wide range of African art music. In the morning, African Flute Music will feature works by Joshua Uzoigwe (Nigeria), Kwabena Nketia (Ghana) and Bongani Ndodana-Breen (South Africa) alongside West African traditional songs, performed by flautists Baba Gallé Kanté and Rowland Sutherland with pianist Rebeca Omordia and percussionists Richard Olatunde Baker and Moussa Dembele. 

In the afternoon, Music from North Africa features a musical kaleidoscope from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Sudan, including music by Gamal Abdel-Rahim (Egypt), performed by Abdelkader Saadoun on mandola, Rebeca Omordia, and Ubuntu Ensemble. The day ends with An Evening of African Choral Music featuring Lichfield Gospel Choir and the South African Imbube Singers, conducted by Themba Mvula.

Full details from Wigmore Hall's website

Celebrate & share the joy of orchestral music: NYO celebrates 10 years of NYO Inspire with As One

NYO Side by Side in Liverpool
NYO Side by Side in Liverpool

42% of schools in England no longer enter any pupils for Music GCSE, and the number of pupils opting to do Music at A-Level has fallen by 45% between 2010 and 20232. There has been a 15% decline in children learning an instrument and 80% of young people believe more should be done to get their generation into orchestral music.

For ten years, NYO Inspire, the National Youth Orchestra's (NYO) scheme to encourage young people to play an instrument and discover the joys of orchestra music, has put members of the orchestra in the community inspiring their peers. To celebrate this anniversary, launching As One to connect young people across the UK by inspiring them to pick up an instrument and play music together.

Participants from NYO Inspire will embark on a national school tour for the first time, NYO will engage with music educators across the country to ensure every young person has the opportunity to play music together. And members of the 160-person Orchestra will play their part sharing the joy of live performance at primary schools in their local community.

NYO will welcome aspiring musicians from across the UK to join them for their performance at this year’s BBC Proms on Saturday 10 August 2024.

Over the last ten years, NYO Inspire has supported 5,000 young people to make music a bigger part of their lives. Last year, 82% of participants were state school educated and 41% were Black, Asian or ethnically diverse. Many musicians go on to secure a place in the Orchestra with NYO Inspire alumni making up 39% of the current Orchestra.

NYO As One

The National Youth Orchestra will play at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 7 August, at Saffron Hall in Essex on 9 August and finally at the BBC Proms in London on 10 August. They will perform Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, Missy Mazzoli’s Orpheus Undone and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, alongside a new piece by Dani Howard which celebrates As One, conducted by Alexandre Bloch and Tess Jackson. Tickets for the performances at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and Saffron Hall in Essex will be completely free for teenagers. This forms part of NYO’s key strategy to provide opportunities for young people to experience orchestral music together.

Further information from the NYO website.

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024.

7-year-old Euan Kemp, winner of Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024 (Photo: Ian Georgeson)
Euan Kemp, winner of
Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024
(Photo: Ian Georgeson)

Euan Kemp, 17-year-old Saxophonist from East Dunbartonshire has won the Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024 the final of which took place at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on 26 May 2024. Kemp, an S6 pupil from The Music School of Douglas Academy, has been playing Saxophone since he was 11 years old and performed music by Ryo Noda and André Jolivet.

Second place was shared by pianist Magnus Shanks (aged 16) from Aberdeenshire and accordion player Jake Johnstone (aged 15) from South Lanarkshire, who as accompanied on the piano by his younger sister. There were 31 finalists in all with a range of instruments including saxophone, clarsach, accordion, guitar, pipes, trumpet and more. The day culminated in performances by the winning Scottish Young Musicians Brass Ensemble of the Year, Campbeltown Brass Ensemble and Ensemble of the Year, Belmont Academy Woodwind Ensemble from South Ayrshire. 

The Scotland-wide competition is run by The Music Education Partnership Group who work with every school and local authority to support music education and opportunities. The final is the culmination of individual school and local authority competitions, and the competition this year involved local authorities covering 99% of Scotland’s population.

Singer and broadcaster Jamie MacDougall, who hosted the final, commented, "The way the different Local Authorities have embraced this competition and recognised it across the country has helped to give it the status and importance it deserves. For young musicians to have an opportunity to perform and be heard we must provide appropriate resources to schools and those who work with young people in music – without that there is no future of music in Scotland."

Further information from the Scottish Young Musicians website.

Horn & live electronics: horn player Ben Goldscheider joins Philip Dawson for new works at Southbank Centre

Ben Goldscheider
Ben Goldscheider

Horn player Ben Goldscheider has talked in interviews about his desire to expand the instrument's repertoire, and he has certainly been busy doing just that. So far this year he has premiered Gavin Higgin's Horn Concerto [see my review] as well as that by Huw Watkins [see my review], both works providing significan technical challenges, plus giving a recital at Wigmore Hall featuring contemporary works by Watkins and Jörg Widmann [see my review]. But Goldscheider is also keen to challenge perceptions of the instrument, presenting it in a wider range of settings as well as promoting it as a solo instrument. 

To that end, he has commissioned three new pieces for horn and live electronics, as he explains 'I am personally fascinated by the speed of the technology and how, in surround sound, the eyes and the ears begin to deceive one another as the live horn playing intertwines with the electronics.  This programme aims to stimulate, to broaden perspectives and allow a glimpse into relatively unknown territory with the instrument that Robert Schumann calls "the soul of the orchestra".'

On 27 June, Goldscheider will be at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall with Philip Dawson for a programme of horn and live electronics including premieres by Zoë Martlew, Dame Thea Musgrave (who recently celebrated her 96th birthday) and Mark Simpson, all commissioned by Ben Goldscheider, plus recent works by Alex Groves and Hildegard Westerkamp.

Zoë Martlew's Nibiru is inspired by the prophecies of cataclysm from the encounter between the Earth and a large planetary object, supposed to take place in the early 21st century. Martlew describes her piece as opening with nuclear armageddon and ending with a vision of a new Eden, represented by 'the last known recording of a male Kauai O'o bird in Hawaii, calling for a mate that never came...'

Mark Simpson's Darkness Moves II takes its inspiration from the work and ideas of Belgian-born poet and artist Henri Michaux (1899-1984) whose experiments with the drug mescaline led him to 'inner vision that poured through his mind like weirdly agitated and vibrating film'. Simpson's Darkness Moves from 2016 featured a recording which was manipulated in real time, whereas he describes the new piece as a duet between horn and live electronics.

Thea Musgrave's Golden ECHO III has a similar trajectory to Simpson's piece in that Musgrave wrote the original in 1986 for the International Horn Society when a solo horn player was accompanied by sixteen of his colleagues, this was developed into a more portable piece for solo horn and tape. Now for Golden ECHO III, Goldscheider has recorded the original sixteen-horn version, overdubbing the parts himself. Musgrave describes how 'to enhance the apparent concerto-like virtuosity and freedom of the soloist' the solo part is not written in strict rhythmic notation.

Alex Groves describes Single Form (Dawn) as a 'slow motion sunrise of a piece' that 'maps out the entire range of the horn's natural harmonic series, turning dark and murky depths into a shimmering wall of sound ablaze with colour.' 

Hildegard Westerkamp's Fantasie for Horns II began as a piece for tape which received honourable mention at the 1979 International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France. Then, Westerkamp explains, 'After the completion of the soundtrack, it seemed natural to add a live horn part. Besides being environmental in its choice of sounds, the soundtrack could now become the acoustic environment for the horn - an instrument which, in turn, has had a long history as a sound signal in many parts of the world.' The sources of the original soundtrack being Canadian train horns, foghorns, boat horns, car horns and alp horns.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

No Limits! No Preconceptions! No Clue! Alice d'Lumiere's Trans Lady Sings at Wandsworth Arts Fringe

Alice d'Lumiere's Trans Lady Sings
Alice d'Lumiere's Trans Lady Sings

Gender can seem remarkably fluid, at times, in opera despite the apparent restrictions of vocal physiology. To a long tradition of female mezzo-sopranos in trousers and tenors in frocks, we are now adding the emergence of trans opera singers such as baritone Lucia Lucas and tenor Holden Madagame (who was Mime in Regents Opera's recent Siegfried, see Holden's article on Planet Hugill).

To gender-fluid spoken word artist, Alice d'Lumiere, classical music has always seemed terrifyingly stratified: Soprano, Contralto, Tenor, Bass; is the role you play always ordained by the limits of your vocal physiology?

For Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2021 Alice staged a Spoken Word Overture, an evening of experimental opera where she laid down a challenge to herself in prose and verse to overcome her deep, childhood inability to sing. Two years and numerous singing lessons later, this self-confessed outsider in gender, and 50+ late-starter in opera, returned to Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2023 to reveal if she was finally able to hold a note...

Now Alice d'Lumiere's show, Trans Lady Sings is returning to London for two performances on 15 and 22 June 2024 as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe, at the National Opera Studio - so no pressure there!

Alice describes the show thus, "Themes of vocal identity, gender fluidity, life-long learning and the individual's need for self-expression are humorously explored by a beguiling communicator in a 90 minute show; combining prose, verse, comedy, a dash of performance art and yes, some actual singing! Contains original music and possibly some foolhardy attempts at the classical repertoire…"

Full details from the Wandsworth Arts Fringe website.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Telling a story: Solomon's Knot in stylishly vivid form for the Canon's version of Handel's Esther

Esther, mosaic from The Dormition Church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem
Esther, mosaic from The Dormition Church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

Handel: Esther (Canons version); Solomon's Knot; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed: 27 May 2024

Solomon's Knot on vibrant and vivid form in a dramatic account of the earliest version of Handel's first oratorio

Handel's Esther has an important place in music history as the first of his English oratorios, though it wasn't intended as such. Written as a small-scale masque at Canons around 1718 for the Duke of Chandos, that original version probably used just a handful of singers, though the work was revised in 1720 for a larger scale performance also at Canons. Handel probably never intended the piece to have any further life, by the 1720s he had turned his back on large-scale private patronage and was enmeshed in creating Italian opera. But in the early 1730s, a version of the work was staged in pirate performances. It was very successful. Handel's response when faced with this sort of copyright/piracy issue was to create a new improved version of the work in question. He did that for Esther, expanding it using some of the Coronation Anthems and re-writing for his Italian singers. The work's success led to further oratorios. 

Frustratingly, not that much is known about the work's early history, Handel's period working for the Duke of Chandos is frustratingly lacking in detail. We don't even have a secure edition of that very first version, but the earliest manuscript (dating from 1720) still gives us a work that is smaller in scale, poised between masque and oratorio, yet respectful of English theatrical traditions (the main male characters played by tenors and basses), thus almost by accident pointing the way.

On Monday 27 May 2024 at Wigmore Hall, Solomon's Knot, artistic director Jonathan Sells, turned their attention to Handel's Esther and gave a performance of that early Canons version, featuring a vocal ensemble of ten singers including Zoe Brookshaw as Esther, Joseph Doody as Mordecai, Xavier Hetherington as Ahasuerus and Alex Ashworth as Haman, plus an instrumental ensemble of 14 (strings, woodwind and continuo) plus horns and trumpet as necessary. The result was a very full stage indeed.

Performing from memory, the singers gave the work a rather effective element of semi-staging. Esther is not strictly a dramatic work; structured in six scenes it has static choruses and discontinuities that reflect the work's masque origins. The English text is not the most felicitous that Handel set, so for instance at the end of Act Two the first Israelite sings 'With inward joy his visage glows/He to the Queen's apartment goes'. But in its very compactness the work is effective.

Step Into Opera: new ROH digital resource for encouraging young people to sing and explore opera

ROH Youth Opera in Jonathan Ainscough & Jonathan Briggin's The Sapling in July 2023
ROH Youth Opera in Jonathan Ainscough & Jonathan Briggin's The Sapling in July 2023

When I chatted to conductor Nicholas Chalmers in 2019 [see my interview], one of the topics that popped up was his work with the youth opera at the Royal Opera House, working with children aged 13 to 18 with the idea of taking young kids who sang as trebles and ensuring that they keep singing when they get older. Opportunities for teenage boys to sing at secondary school level are poor and many just give up. Based on his experiences, Nicholas Chalmers was working on arrangements for youth choir.

Now, as part of the Royal Opera House's Step Into Opera a digital resource has been created featuring 14 arrangements of famous opera arias in 2/3/4 part harmony, created by Chalmers alongside Iain Farrington, Berty Rice and the director, Anna Morrissey. The arrangements feature everything from Dido's Lament to The Magic Flute and The Barber of Seville to Tannhäuser and Turandot, and are intended to be versatile. The website suggests the 'arrangements can be performed one at a time, combined to form a small concert or they can be staged using the expert director notes. They have been written to give you the flexibility to enjoy them in a way which is convenient for your ensemble and available voices.'

Director's notes have been created to offer a context for each arrangement, and to give some initial ideas and suggestions as to how you could begin to bring these arrangements to 'life'. 

Each song page features demo tracks and backing tracks along with the sheet music and lyrics, along with hints, questions and challenges towards preparing and creating a scene.

Full details from ROH's Step Into Opera page.

Monday 27 May 2024

Doing Vivaldi proud: his Olympic opera performed with verve & imagination by Irish National Opera

Vivaldi: L'Olimpiade - Sarah Richmond, Alexandra Urquiola, Gemma Ni Bhiriain, Chuma Sijeqa, Meili Li, Rachel Redmond, Sean Boylan - Irish National Opera (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)
Vivaldi: L'Olimpiade - Sarah Richmond, Alexandra Urquiola, Gemma Ni Bhriain, Chuma Sijeqa, Meili Li, Rachel Redmond, Sean Boylan - Irish National Opera (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)

Vivaldi: L'Olimpiade: Gemma Ni Bhriain, Alexandra Urquiola, Meili Li, Sarah Richmond, Rachel Redmond, Sean Boylan, Chum Sijeqa, director: Daisy Evans, conductor: Peter Whelan, Irish Baroque Orchestra; Irish National Opera at Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House
Reviewed 25 May 2024

The youthful vitality of the cast was compelling in his highly imaginative version of Vivaldi's Olympic opera that managed to mix entertainment with drama in just the right balance, plus stunning playing from the pit

Metastasio's libretto L'Olimpiade (The Olympiad) was written for Antonio Caldara's opera of that name, premiered in Vienna in 1733. It proved popular and would be set by over 50 composers including Vivaldi, who wrote L'Olimpiade for Venice in 1734 and Pergolesi in 1735. Vivaldi's opera was performed by Garsington Opera in 2012, part of the relatively tentative reassessment of Vivaldi's operas that is slowly taking place. 

Having wowed with Vivaldi's Il Bajazet in 2023 [see my review], Irish National Opera returned to Vivaldi, again with the Irish Baroque Orchestra, conductor Peter Whelan, in the pit for a production of L'Olimpiade done in collaboration with the Royal Opera House. We caught the final performance of the run at Covent Garden, which had been preceded by an Irish tour, so the performance was admirably bedded in. The production was directed by Daisy Evans with designs by Molly O'Cathain, lighting by Jake Wiltshire and movement by Matthew Forbes. Gemma Ni Bhriain as Megacle, Alexandra Urquiola as Aristea, Meili Li as Licida, Sarah Richmond as Argene (disguised as Licori), Rachel Redmond as Aminta, Sean Boylan as Alcandro and Chuma Sijeqa as Clistene.

Vivaldi: L'Olimpiade - Peter Whelan, Irish Baroque Orchestra - Irish National Opera (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)
Vivaldi: L'Olimpiade - Peter Whelan, Irish Baroque Orchestra - Irish National Opera (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)
The plot concerns some fairly standard opera seria tropes, two couples each at cross purposes thanks to parental interference, plus a lost baby, an attempted drowning and interfering servants. As the opera opens Licida (Meili Li) and Argene (Sarah Richmond) have split and she is living as the shepherdess Licori. Licida is competing in the Olympic Games where the prize is the hand of King Clistene's daughter Aristea (Alexandra Urquiola). To ensure he wins, Licida persuades his friend Megacle (Gemma Ni Bhriain) to compete in his name. Except that Megacle and Aristea are lovers, split apart by parents, whilst Licida's former lover Argene (Sarah Richmond) is living as a shepherdess. Cue the usual confusion, and throw in Licida's tutor, Aminta (Rachel Redmond), and courtier Alcandro (Sean Boylan), and you just about have it.

The opera is, however, not without its oddities.

Saturday 25 May 2024

The Quest: London Youth Opera's commission for 2024

Stuart Hancock: Pandora's Box - London Youth Opera at Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, 2023 (Photo: Nina Swann)
Stuart Hancock: Pandora's Box - London Youth Opera at Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, 2023 (Photo: Nina Swann)

Last December, London Youth Opera (LYO) presented Stuart Hancock and Donald Sturrock's Pandora's Box at the Royal Academy of Music's Susie Sainsbury Theatre [see my review].  Charlie Swann, who sang Prometheus, has accepted a scholarship at Royal Academy of Music to study Opera there full-time from this September. LYO is following this with a new commission for 2024, The Quest by composer Nathan Williamson and libretto by singer-songwriter Megg Nicol

Williamson is a composer and pianist, and as a pianist he has gained kudos for his three-volume recording project for SOMM Recordings, 100 Years of British Song, with tenor James Gilchrist, as well as founding The Art of British Song project. As a composer, Williamson's song-cycle, Grey and Green are all my Light, was premiered last year by baritone Jonathan Eyers. His opera, Machine Dream, a children’s opera commissioned by Mahogany Opera Group for their ground-breaking Snappy Operas project, has been performed by numerous primary schools across the UK.  

In The Quest, a group of brilliant young scientists believe they are on the cusp of solving the world’s environmental problems and saving the planet - but will they stick to their quest and fulfil their promise to humanity, or have their heads turned by the fame and fortune offered to them by the alluring but corrupt politicians? Further details from LYO's website.

The company currently has a funding appeal to raise money for the company's plans, do visit this LYO Match Funding Appeal page to support them.

Friday 24 May 2024

Creating something remarkable: Fatma Said & Joseph Middleton in Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, de Falla, Obradors & Hankash

Joseph Middleton and Fatma Said - Milton Court concert hall, Barbican (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)
Joseph Middleton and Fatma Said - Milton Court concert hall, Barbican (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)

Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, de Falla: Siete canciones populares, Obradors, Najib Hankash; Fatma Said, Joseph Middleton; Milton Court concert hall, Barbican
Reviewed 22 May 2024

A consummate programme where two exceptional performers took us on a journey and held us spell-bound from beginning to end, weaving seemingly disparate elements into something remarkable

On paper, the programme for soprano Fatma Said and pianist Joseph Middleton's recital at Milton Court concert hall, as part of the Barbican Centre's classical season, looked interesting but not out of the ordinary; songs by Mozart, Schubert and Schumann in the first half, songs by de Falla, including Siete canciones populares, and Obradors in the second, and ending with a song by Lebanese composer Najib Hankash, all linked by the rather loose idea of love in all its forms. But in the hands of a pair of exceptional performers, this sequence was transformed into something that bit special.

For a start, Said sang everything from memory, addressing us in each song and successfully capturing attention from the recital's opening notes. There was nothing overly operatic about her approach, yet each song had a narrative, a character, presented in music, word and gesture. In this she was partnered by Middleton, whose playing was sensitive but not retiring and more than once I notice the vividness with which he contributed to supporting Said.

Joseph Middleton and Fatma Said - Milton Court concert hall, Barbican (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)
Joseph Middleton and Fatma Said - Milton Court concert hall, Barbican (Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican)

Thursday 23 May 2024

Happy 60th birthday: the Salomon Orchestra celebrates with Martyn Brabbins, Michal Oren, Mussorgsky and Elgar

The Salomon Orchestra in rehearsal at Henry Wood Hall
The Salomon Orchestra in rehearsal at Henry Wood Hall

When the Salomon Orchestra celebrated its 40th birthday in 2003 it assembled the huge orchestra needed for Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony, directed by founding conductor Nicholas Braithwaite, filling St John's Smith Square with so many orchestral musicians that you felt there was hardly room for the audience. The results, needless to say, were glorious. Now the orchestra is 60 and will be celebrating.

On Saturday 1 June 2024, Martyn Brabbins and Michal Oren will be conducting the orchestra in a celebratory 60th birthday concert at St John's Smith Square. Michal Oren conducts Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and then Martyn Brabbins conducts Elgar's Symphony No. 1. And the evening will begin with the world premiere of Martyn Brabbins' A Birthday Greeting, composed specially for the orchestra's birthday.

Conceived by Nicholas Braithwaite and a group of his contemporaries in Vienna in 1963, the Salomon Orchestra is one of London's oldest non-professional symphony orchestras and is widely described as one of its finest.

Martyn Brabbins is the orchestra's president and he has a long association with the orchestra including, notably, a series of 'marathon' concerts where they performed all the symphonic works of a particular composer in a single day. 

The orchestra first worked with Michal Oren when she was on Martyn Brabbins' conducting course at the Royal College of Music, and she is currently studying there for her Master of Performance in conducting. In 2020, she won the first prize in the conducting competition of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music and, in September 2023, won first prize in the 4th International Academy and Competition of Orchestra Conducting in Estoril, Portugal.

Full details of the concert from the orchestra's website.

Julia Thomsen's 'Beauty' from Harmonies of WoMen



Harmonies of WoMen is an album that was released on International Women's Day 2024, featuring work from ten different female pianists, and released under the banner of the Piano And Nature label, which dedicates itself to environmental consciousness by planting a tree for each release.

The full album is available on Spotify, but we are featuring the newly released video created to to go with Julia Thomsen's Beauty.

Summer Music in City Churches: Love's Labours

St Giles Cripplegate
St Giles Cripplegate

This year's Summer Music in City Churches focuses on Shakespeare and under the title Love's Labours runs at a single City church, St Giles Cripplegate from 6 to 15 June 2024. 

Pierre Vallet and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra open the festival with a concert featuring Gerald Finzi's incidental music to Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost along with Mendelssohn and Chopin. Soprano Rachel Nicholls and baritone Roderick Williams join Iain Farrington and City of London Choir to close the festival with Farrington's jazz-influenced cantata Then Sing We All and Joseph Horovitz's Captain Noah and the Floating Zoo!

Other performers at the festival include violinist David Juritz and the Curve Ensemble in a tango-inspired programme, string quartet Brother Tree Sound and Tier3 Trio. Pianist Viv McLean, violinist Fenella Humphreys and narrator Jessica Duchen present Archangel marking the centenary of Faure's death, baritone David Greco and pianist Gavin Robert's perform Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin and there is an evening of Shakespearean words and music from pianist Nigel Hess, actors Nancy Carroll and Richard Teverson and singers Michael Dore and Eleanor Grant.

Celebrating their 130th birthday, the City of London School for Girls joins forces with City of London School to present songs on a theme of love and Shakespeare, directed by Richard Quesnel. There’s a particular nod to the Bard’s First Folio, printed 400 years ago just a stone’s throw from St Giles Cripplegate.

Full details from the festival website.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Music that Moves You: new survey from ABO & partners reveals 74% say that orchestras are a vital part of the country’s cultural heritage

National Children’s Orchestras_U12 Orchestra perform Shimmer and Glow at Portsmouth Guildhall, August 2023_credit Vernon Nash (1).jpg
National Children's Orchestras under 12 orchestra perform Shimmer and Glow at Portsmouth Guildhall, August 2023 (Photo: Vernon Nash)

It shouldn't need saying but it does, and there is a new survey to prove it. Yesterday, the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), representing its 200 member organisations, along with partners, Classic FM, Classical Music Magazine, LIVE, UK Music, the Musicians’ Union and the Independent Society of Musicians, launched a three-year campaign to celebrate the power and value of classical music and the UK’s orchestras, backed by a new survey that confirms what we already knew but what governments seem to forget - 74% say that orchestras are a vital part of the country’s cultural heritage and 65% of people believe that classical music is under-appreciated today.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults was conducted by Opinium, and reveals that four in five of UK adults suggest that music has reminded them of important moments in their life. 71% of people believe that classical music amplifies the big moments in life such as weddings, funerals, sporting events and national ceremonies, with nearly three quarters (73%) of 18-34 year olds agreeing with this. Moreover, 65% of the ABO’s survey felt that classical music is under-appreciated by today’s society.

The survey recognises a multitude of emotional responses that respondents felt whilst listening to the music - younger generations - 73% of 18-34 year olds - want to be completely immersed when listening to their music, contrasting with 59% of 35-54 year olds, and 43% of 55+ year olds.

Seven in ten of UK adults from the ABO's survey believe music is an important part of their wellbeing. With many orchestras and ensembles carrying out performances in health and social care settings, not only do they contribute to the cultural life in local communities across the country, they make a vital contribution to the nation’s wellbeing, by enabling anyone to connect with the arts and to experience live music performances.

The full press release is on the ABO's website, and there is a devoted webpage for the campaign complete with a toolkit.

NCEM Young Composers Award

NCEM Young Composers Award winners Ryan Collins and Charlotte Robertson with Ex Corde
NCEM Young Composers Award winners Ryan Collins and Charlotte Robertson with Ex Corde

Last week (16 May 2024), the winners of the 17th National Centre for Early Music Young Composers Award were announced. Presented in partnership with BBC Radio 3, the event took place on Thursday 16 May at the National Centre for Early Music in York. Aspiring young composers were invited to create a new work for The Tallis Scholars, creating a work for unaccompanied voices setting the 16th century text Mirabile mysterium (A wondrous mystery) either in the original Latin or the English translation. 

Compositions by the eight young finalists were workshopped during the day by composer Professor Christopher Fox, professional singers from York based ensemble Ex Corde and their director Paul Gameson, in the presence of Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars. In the evening, Ex Corde and Paul Gameson gave a public performance. This was live streamed to ensure that friends and families from across the UK were able to join in with the fun.

The live streamed performance is available on the NCEM Young Composers Award website at

The winner in the 19 to 25 years category was Ryan Collis.

The winner in the 18 years and under category was Charlotte Robertson. 

Making It at Guildhall School of Music & Drama

Making It at Guildhall School of Music and Drama
What does it mean to "make it" as an artist in the 21st century? From 11 to 28 June 2024, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama will be presenting Making It, a new festival celebrating new work created by Guildhall's eclectic and multi-skilled student community. Events include Guildhall School's final year actors in Kaleidescope, a celebration of the diverse perspective and boundless creativity, a showcase of work from final year production artists and video designers as they prepare to join the creative industry’s workforce. Guildhall School's costume artists will showcase specifically designed pieces for the festival in pop-up performances throughout the School.

There will be three new works written by composers and librettists on Guildhall School’s MA in Opera Making & Writing and performed by singers and repetiteurs from Guildhall Opera Course. The Plus-Minus Ensemble will be presenting seven new works by Guildhall composers, whilst the Harp Festival will include an exploration of the early harp and six world premieres. There will also be a showcase for the piccolo.

Issues considered include Diversity in Action: Diversifying production arts staffing in drama schools and conservatoires, and The Creative Practioner: Artists as Makers in Society, plus a Postgraduate research Summer symposium presenting discussion between performers, composers, actors, theatre makers and cross-disciplinary creatives.

Full details from the Guildhall School website.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Calling women musicians: Watermill Theatre wants them to join its new play about Fanny Mendelssohn

Calum Finaly's Fanny in rehearsal at Watermill Theatre (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)
Calum Finaly's Fanny in rehearsal at Watermill Theatre (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

When Queen Victoria invited Felix Mendelssohn to perform for her at a personal concert and play her favourite song, Italien, the composer had to admit that he hadn't actually written the song. It was one of his sister Fanny Mendelssohn's pieces that were published under his name. In fact, Fanny would be over 40 before publishing under her own name and she did so with the encouragement of her husband but in the face of Felix's disapproval; when it came to the idea of Fanny having a musical career of her own, Felix remained something of a prig.

This story forms the slightly surprising germ for a new play, Fanny by actor/director/writer Calum Finlay which is at The Watermill Theatre, Newbury from 23 May to 15 June 2024, directed by Katie-Ann McDonough, with Yshani Perinpanayagam as musical director. Described as a fun and irreverent new comedy that celebrates classical music, the play imagines that 'Fanny intercepts a letter addressed to ‘F. Mendelssohn’ inviting Felix to play for Queen Victoria. As the true composer of Italien, she decides to hide the letter, don her brother’s clothes, and take his place at the palace…cueing a race across Europe and a furious Felix.'

In the Irish tradition of the Noble Call, the tradition of calling on guests at a party to share a song, a poem or to respond to the mood of the day, the theatre has invited women musicians to take part; women musicians of all levels, backgrounds and styles are asked to sign-up to play a piece of music at the end of the show each night to continue the work of all the incredible women musicians before them. 

Further information about the Noble Call from Google docs. See the theatre's website for information about Fanny.

Jack Bazalgette of 'through the noise' announced as next artistic director of Cheltenham Music Festival

Jack Bazalgette (Photo: Ehimetalor Unuabona)
Jack Bazalgette (Photo: Ehimetalor Unuabona)

Since 2020, through the noise has programmed more than 130 classical music concerts in non-traditional venues using an innovative crowd-funding model to widen audience appeal [see my review of their recent noise night at Leeds Lieder Festival]. Now through the noise co-founder and director Jack Bazalgette has been announced as the new artistic director of the Cheltenham Music Festival. 

Bazalgette will be artistic director from 2025, and he will be supported by the festival’s producer, Tamsyn Hamilton, who will remain in post following her work on implementing the festival’s 2024 programme. 2025 sees the festival celebrating its 80th anniversary, and whilst this year sees the festival celebrating the 150th anniversary of Cheltenham native, Gustav Holst, overall recent festivals have seemed to somewhat lose their focus and purpose, so it will be interesting to see how Bazalgette manages to combine through the noise innovations with a large scale traditional music festival. In a recent interview with International Arts Manager, Bazalgette explained, "We’re on a mission to show that with the right presentation classical music can be a viable part of the mainstream music scene without compromising the quality of the music".

And about his recent Cheltenham appointment he comments: "Cheltenham has an astonishing history of commissioning new works and showcasing the world's most talented musicians. Its year-round work with young people and schools is also crucial to introducing diverse audiences to the joy of classical music. As Cheltenham's  Artistic Director, I will be continuing this work while also seeking to expand its audiences – and our understandings of what live classical music can and should be in the twenty-first century."

Further information from the festival website.

Thomas Roseingrave: Eight Harpsichord Suites and other keyboard works

Thomas Roseingrave: Eight Harpsichord Suites and other keyboard works; Bridget Cunningham; Signum Classics
Thomas Roseingrave: Eight Harpsichord Suites and other keyboard works; Bridget Cunningham; Signum Classics
Reviewed 20 May 2024

Demonstrating the 18th-century Britain had more than one distinguished harpsichord composer, this disc explores the engaging, complex and quirky world of Thomas Roseingrave's keyboard works

Thomas Roseingrave is one of those names that lives on the fringes of musical history. English-born to Irish parents and raised in Dublin. His move to improve himself by travelling to Italy led to his admiration for Scarlatti and his introduction of that composer's works into the UK. His eight suites for harpsichord were published in 1728, when he was at the height of his powers and it is these that have remained his best-known pieces, albeit rather under the shadow of Handel's keyboard works.

Now harpsichord player Bridget Cunningham, after recording Handel's eight great harpsichord suites [see my review] has followed this with a disc of Thomas Roseingrave's Eight Harpsichord Suites on Signum Classics.

Monday 20 May 2024

Ryedale Festival 2024: 58 concerts, 35 locations, 7 premieres and much more

Ryedale Festival 2024

The 2024 Ryedale Festival runs from 12 to 28 July, featuring 58 performances in 35 locations including Castle Howard, Sledmere, Hovingham Hall, Selby Abbey and Ampleforth. The festival features seven world and UK premieres.

The Van Baerle Trio's residency at the festival features the UK premieres of Gabriel Prokofiev's Piano Trio No. 1 and Rob Zuidam's Tritypch, Julian Anderson's Ice Quartet receives its UK premiere performed by the Piatti Quartet, Kian Ravaei's Gulistan, which explores his Iranian heritage, given its UK premiere by mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, and Barron is also presenting her new project, Spring Snow, a ground-breaking project that intertwines the narratives of Schubert’s Winterreise and the Japanese Kabuki play Yasuna, with dancer Suleiman Suleiman, and shamisen player Hibiki Ichikawa. The Marian Consort is giving the world premiere of a new work by Sarah Frances Jenkins inspired by the pre-Raphaelite designs of Castle Howard’s chapel where the work is being performed, along with music by Laurence Osborn.

Other performers include artist in residence, horn player Felix Klieser, who is playing chamber music plus Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4 with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, violinist Rachel Podger who tours a solo programme to intimate and beautiful venues across the region, and Angela Hewitt in Bach and Beethoven, plus many more.

Beyond classical music, Claire Martin celebrates the 100th anniversary of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, while folk group The Unthanks visit Malton’s Milton Rooms.

Full details from the festival's website.

Celebrating diversity in classical music: Black Lives In Music presents Classically Black at Kings Place

Ayanna Witter Johnson (Photo: Misan Harriman)
Ayanna Witter-Johnson (Photo: Misan Harriman)

Black Lives In Music (BLiM) is an organisation set up to address racial inequality in the music industry and create opportunities for Black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians and professionals today. BLiM recently announced a landmark 10 Point Orchestral Plan, introduced with the Musicians’ Union and Association Of British Orchestras. 33 organisations have signed up so far, with leading orchestras including the five BBC Orchestras and BBC Singers, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra. After becoming aware of shocking abuse, BLiM has also launched their new survey, Your Safety Your Say, to address bullying and harassment in the music industry. BLiM will use the anonymous survey to collect real world data.

On 19 October 2024, BLiM is presenting Classically Black at Kings Place,  one-day symposium exploring the cutting edge of classical music. There will be two newly commissioned works by British Black composers,  jazz pianist Pete Letanka and saxophonist/composer Jason Yarde, along with Julian Joseph's Violin Concerto, to be performed and recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, plus a late afternoon showcase for emerging talent, networking opportunities, interactive discussions, panels, and music workshops. In the evening, singer/songwriter, cellist, pianist, composer, Ayanna Witter-Johnson is joined by friends for a concert highlighting how her classical tone weaves its way through her musical roots of reggae, soul and jazz.

Full details for Classically Black from Kings Place website.

Madeleine Mitchell and friends at Leighton House

Narcissus Hall, Leighton House. Image courtesy of Will Pryce.
Narcissus Hall, Leighton House. Image courtesy of Will Pryce.    

Violinist Madeleine Mitchell is joined by friends Kirsten Jensen (cello) and Julian Milford (piano) for a concert of piano trios at Leighton House on 11 June. The concert features music by Germaine Tailleferre, Delius and Dvorak. The evening offers the opportunity to explore the house and gallery, which reopened in 2022 following a major refurbishment of the 20th century additions to Lord Leighton's original house. 

Germaine Tailleferre wrote her Piano Trio in 1916/17, but it did not receive much attention and remained unpublished. She returned to it in 1978, replacing one movement and adding the finale. The new music perhaps edgier than the old but Tailleferre's friend from Les Six commented about her that in her music she "was always 20 years old". Delius' Légende (for violin and piano) and Romance (for cello and piano) both date from the 1890s when Delius was living in Paris, musically productive years after his studies in Leipzig.

Dvorak's Piano Trio no.3 in F minor is one of six works in the genre that Dvorak wrote (though the two earliest are lost). The work dates from 1883, a period when the composer had developed an international reputation and was working on his Symphony No. 7 which he premiered in London.

Full details from EventBrite.

Friday 17 May 2024

Combining disparate sounds with a bit of magic: Michel Godard and serpent in Göttingen

Atsushi Sakai (viola da gamba) and Bruno Helstroffer (theorbo) at PS.Halle, Einbeck
Atsushi Sakai (viola da gamba) and Bruno Helstroffer (theorbo) at PS.Halle, Einbeck

Light the earth: Incantation: Handel, Jean de la Fontaine, Michel Lambert, Sieur de Saint Colombe, Marin Marais, Michel Godard; Michel Godard, Antje Rux, Airelle Besson, Atsushi Sakai, Bruno Helstroffer; Internationale Händel Festspiele Göttingen at PS. Halle, Einbeck
Reviewed 14 May 2024

The somewhat unlikely combination of voice, serpent, theorbo, viola da gamba and jazz trumpet in a programme moving between French Baroque, Handel and contemporary

The serpent is a bass instrument of somewhat uncertain origins that acted as wind bass line in ensembles from 17th to early 19th century Related to the cornett, it is a wooden instrument covered in leather with a brass mouthpiece, pitch altered using finger-holes. The sound is described as being somewhere between a bassoon and a euphonium, but hearing one played for the first time earlier this week, my first naughty thought was how much the sound evoked my Dad playing tunes on random bits of tubing and hosepipes.

Michel Godard and serpent
Michel Godard and serpent

On 14 May 2024, French multi-instrumentalist Michel Godard brought his serpent to the Internationale Händel Festspiele Göttingen. At PS. Halle, Einbeck, Godard was joined by Antje Rux (soprano), Airelle Besson (jazz trumpet), Atsushi Sakai (viola da gamba) and Bruno Helstroffer (theorbo) for a programme entitled Light the earth: Incantation with music by Handel, Jean de la Fontaine, Michel Lambert, Sieur de Saint Colombe, Marin Marais and Michel Godard. 

The venue was the event hall at PS. Speicher, a museum containing Europe's largest collection of old cars, motorbikes and commercial vehicles. So the concert took place against a backdrop of classic, veteran and vintage vehicles, many, like the serpent itself, rather wonderful but tricky to 'drive'. PS. Speicher is based in Einbeck, a town also notable for its timber framed houses (Fachwerkhäuser) dating from 16th to 20th centuries.

At first sight, Michel Godard's ensemble seemed somewhat oddly matched, a modern type of broken consort, perhaps. But what all the instrumentalists had in common was a feel for improvisation, so viola da gamba player Atsushi Sakai could move between poised 17th-century divisions and playing his instrument like a jazz bass.

Anchoring this was Antje Rux's pure, clear soprano, bringing a line of clarity to the music around which the others moved. Godard ran the ensemble much like a jazz group, in each piece the original formed the basis and repeats would allow different members of the ensemble their own solo riff.

With two halves of some 40 minutes each, and a similar approach with each piece, the result was perhaps a programme slightly too long and occasionally the improvisatory sections felt a little unfocused, as if the players had not had time to bed in. But what really came over was the musicians' delight in making music together and combining such disparate sounds with a little bit of magic.

Out of the Shadows: An evening of music by Brixton-based contemporary classical composer Robert Hugill

Out of the Shadows, an evening of music by Brixton-based contemporary classical composer Robert Hugill on Sunday 16 June, is part of Omnibus Theatre, Clapham's 96 Festival, its celebration of queerness and theatre

As part of 96 Festival, Omnibus Theatre, Clapham's celebration of queerness and theatre, on 16 June 2024, tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark, baritone Jonathan Eyers and pianist Nigel Foster will be performing Out of the Shadows, featuring two of my recent cantatas and love songs. 

On Friday 5 July 2024, the programme will be presented at St John's Church, Tartu, Estonia as part of the Glasperlenspiel Festival. The festival is a leading musical event in Estonian Summer and was founded in 1995 by Estonian composer and music producer, Peeter Vähi.

Ben Vonberg-Clark was until recently precentor at St John the Divine, Kennington, and conducts the London Youth Boys’ Choir and is conductor of the University of Essex Choir and the UBS choral society.

Baritone Jonathan Eyers was Young Artist at the National Opera Studio for the 2023/24 season, and was Figaro in Charles Court Opera’s production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville at Wilton’s Music Hall

Pianist Nigel Foster is the artistic director of the London Song Festival, whose Summer Festival runs from 6 to 29 June 2024.

The evening features two of my cantatas. Out of the Shadows, inspired by a re-reading of Graham Robb's Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century, uses historic texts to explore homosexual men's gradual emergence in the 19th century. Et expecto explores ideas of life after death via Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Burke & Hare, the Wikipedia entry on Cryonics and Whitman’s poetry. Alongside these two will be a selection of my songs, from love songs and settings of Michaelangelo’s sonnets to a depiction of an Aids candlelit memorial.

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 , whilst browsing the Brixton second-hand bookshop, Bookmongers, I came across two book of poems by the Black American poet Carl Cook, The Tranquil Lake of Love and postscripts, using Cook's poems for the chorales in my Passion setting, and setting 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 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.

Out of the Shadows at Glasperlenspiel Festival in Tartu, Estonia at 10pm on Friday 5 July 2024. Further information from the festival website.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Göttingen 1853: Johannes Brahms & Joseph Joachim, a meeting of musical minds evoked

Aula of Georg-August Universität, Göttingen  (Photo: Stefan Flöper / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Aula of Georg-August Universität, Göttingen  (Photo: Stefan Flöper / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Bach, Joachim, Mozart, Handel, Beethoven;  Shunske Sato, Shuann Chai, Wolfgang Sandberger; Internationale Händel Festspiele Göttingen at Aula of Georg-August Universität
Reviewed 13 May 2024

Brahms and Joseph Joachim spent a musical Summer together in 1853 in Göttingen and this event imaginatively evoked the music those two young men played together

In 1853, 20-year-old Johannes Brahms was hired as a pianist by Hungarian violinist Eduard Remeny for a concert tour. In mid-May they are in Hanover and visit violinist Joseph Joachim, the 22-year-old concert-master of the Hanover Court Orchestra. Joachim used his concert-free Summer months to improve his education by attending lectures at the university in Göttingen (then part of the Kingdom of Hanover). When Brahms and Remeny parted company, Brahms wrote to Joachim suggesting a visit and for one month during the Summer, Brahms stayed with Joachim in Göttingen and the two young men made music togethere.

At the Internationale Händel Festspiele Göttingen, the event Göttingen 1853: On the trail of Joseph Joachim on 13 May 2024 evoked that musical meeting. In the Aula of Georg-August Universität, Shunske Sato (violin) and Shuann Chai (piano) played the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2, Joachim's Romanze Op.2 No. 1, Mozart's Sonata in B K454, Handel's Sonata in A K 361 and Beethoven's Sonata No. 47 in A "Kreuzer/Bridgetower", whist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Sandberger gave a talk on the subject.

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