Saturday 20 July 2024

Returning to Northern Ireland Opera for his third role, British-Ukrainian baritone Yuriy Yurchuk talks about his continuing exploration of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

Yuriy Yurchuk
Yuriy Yurchuk

Baritone Yuriy Yurchuk sings the title role in Northern Ireland Opera's new production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin which opens on 14 September 2024 at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, directed by Cameron Menzies and conducted by Dominic Limburg, with a cast including Mary McCabe, Carolyn Dobbin, Sarah Richmond, Jenny Bourke and Norman Reinhardt. Yuri performed in the company’s productions of La Boheme in 2021 and La Traviata in 2022, whilst his performances of Eugene Onegin have included the New National Theatre in Tokyo earlier this year, the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen and La Monnaie, Brussels in 2023

Yuriy Yurchuk at Royal Danish Opera
Yuriy Yurchuk at Royal Danish Opera

When Yuri and I spoke, he was in Savolinna in Finland, where he was about to make his role debut in the title role of Mozart's Don Giovanni. He comments that with the performances taking place in the Medieval castle, entrances and exits involve a lot of running about and negotiating old staircases and uneven dark places. He adds that the quality of the productions at Savolinna is astonishing, and he had nothing but admiration for this year's new production of Verdi's Nabucco, directed by Rodula Gaitanou. Don Giovanni is a revival, and Yuriy comments on the way productions can take on lives of their own, within what is a beautiful set the cast can play with the drama, and they have a lot of freedom. This year, Don Giovanni has two casts and the original intention was for them to do the same thing, but each cast has migrated towards doing what the singers feel. He was finding the process exciting, with the Don being a very interesting role.

Yuriy has a far longer acquaintance with Eugene Onegin, having first sung the role in Kyiv in 2016, with subsequent appearances including Tokyo, Copenhagen and Brussels, alongside a Royal Opera House Covent Garden young artists performance. Inevitably, his first performance of the role was very exciting, and he had to work a lot on forming the character and he talks about bridging the gap between you and the character, layering on the acting makeup. With performances in different productions, he finds his work becoming more nuanced. In each new production, he can try different things and feels that his interpretation gets better. He describes opera as an onion, peeling back layers, and adding more detail in the language and the acting.

Relentlessly entertaining: Louise Bakker's new production of Handel's Acis and Galatea at Opera Holland Park rather over-eggs things but features finely engaging soloists

Handel: Acis and Galatea - chorus -  Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)
Handel: Acis and Galatea - chorus - Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)

Handel: Acis and Galatea; Elizabeth Karani, Anthony Gregory, Chuma Sijeqa, Ruari Bowen, director: Louise Bakker, City of London Sinfonia, conductor: Michael Papadopoulos; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 19 July 2024

For the company's first Handel work, a group of stylishly appealing soloists feature in a production which does not quite understand that less is more and which tends to over-egg things

For such a simple-seeming work, Handel's Acis and Galatea has a somewhat complex history. Written in 1718 whilst Handel was under the patronage of the Duke of Chandos, the work was premiered at the Duke's mansion Cannons with a tradition that it took place in the gardens (which were in the process of being 'improved'), then going on to have a strange after-life as Handel expanded it to suit his Italian opera company. 

We don't know much about that first performance and the surviving music is from slightly later and was published in 1722. It would have been a tiny performance, just five singers providing soloists and chorus, and a similar number of instrumentalists. Whether it was staged is anybody's guess, but Handel's complex writing for the chorus suggests that they, at least, would have been stationary.

For Opera Holland Park's first production of a Handel work, the choice fell rather aptly on Acis and Galatea in the 1718 version (albeit without the character of Coridon who was in the very first performance but dropped subsequently). We caught the opening night on 19 July 2024, directed by Louise Bakker with Michael Papadopoulos conducting the City of London Sinfonia. Elizabeth Karani was Galatea and Anthony Gregory was Acis, with Chuma Sijeqa as Polyphemus and Ruari Bowen as Damon, plus a chorus of eight.

Handel: Acis and Galatea - Elizabeth Karani, Anthony Gregory -  Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)
Handel: Acis and Galatea - Elizabeth Karani, Anthony Gregory - Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)

Alyson Cummins' set spread across the whole of the Opera Holland Park stage, creating a series of pastoral-inspired areas - a temple, a swing in a bower, a mound - with neo-classical architecture and verdant greenery and flowers. And yet, the effect had a deliberate artificiality to it, there was no attempt at realism. This was not an evocation of pastoral Ancient Greece, but a highly theatrical Arcadia. This was emphasised when, during the overture, the chorus arrived. They were dressed in what suggested a group of 18th century aristocrats playing at being English nature spirits. One of the men was Herne the Hunter, another something like the Green Man.

Friday 19 July 2024

The Waves: Louis Mander and Tamsin Treverton Jones' operatic adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel to premiere in Oslo

Virginia Woolf: The Waves - cover of the first edition, designed by Vanessa Bell
Virginia Woolf: The Waves
cover of the first edition, designed by Vanessa Bell
Virginia Woolf's 1931 novel, The Waves, is regarded as her most experimental, consisting of ambiguous and cryptic soliloquies spoken mainly by six characters. It is her attempt to evoke the unconscious aspect of being and the innate essence of existence, and so far the work does not seem to have been adapted as an opera, though director Katie Mitchell adapted the work for the stage, at the National Theatre, in 2006 [see Mitchell's article in The Guardian].

Now librettist Tamsin Treverton Jones and composer Louis Mander have taken the plunge. Treverton Jones is a writer and poet, and has worked on opera librettos before including Thea for composer Amanda Johnson. Mander is an experience stage composer, having written more than a dozen music theatre works (opera, operetta and musicals) plus two ballets.

Their new operatic version of The Waves will premiere at the Oslo Opera Festival in September 2024 in a production directed by Einar Bjørge and conducted by Mander. The production will feature six young singers, William Stevens, William Diggle, Daniel Gray Bell, Hannah Edmunds, Mae Heydorn and Pauline Aase.

Before then, there will be the chance for UK audiences to get a taste of the work as on 24 July, these singers and repetiteur Stefan Ibsen Zlatanos will be sharing the music from the opera at an event at Hawkwood College in Stroud.

From familiar works to brand-new pieces: Autumn at Snape Maltings

Barbara Hepworth: Family of Man - Snape Maltings, winter 2021 (Photo: Shoel Stadlen, courtesy Britten Pears Arts)
Barbara Hepworth: Family of Man - Snape Maltings, winter 2021 (Photo: Shoel Stadlen, courtesy Britten Pears Arts)

The Autumn season at Snape Maltings Concert Hall sees Britten Pears Arts presenting a wide and varied range of activity from familiar works to brand-new pieces with leading performers, orchestras and ensembles beating a path to coastal Suffolk.

Undoubtedly, a major event in the Snape Maltings Concert Hall calendar is the Britten Weekend (2nd/3rd November) which this year features brother-and-sister duo, Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason, seen as both soloists and chamber musicians. Their programme comprises Britten's Cello Sonata in C major paired with the Sonata in D minor by Shostakovich, a composer very close to Britten while the Britten Pears Chamber Choir (formerly Aldeburgh Voices) will sing three lovely contrasting choral mass settings by Britten, Kodály and Tavener from across five centuries in Orford Church thereby reimagining a choral concert from the Aldeburgh Festival’s early days.

Each year, too, the Viola Tunnard Artist award supports a talented collaborative pianist to develop their craft and skills and this year the accolade falls to French-born pianist, Juliette Journaux, who is addicted to Schubert, Beethoven, Mahler and the like. She will be joined by French-born mezzo-soprano, Mathilde Ortscheidt, performing a delectable programme of Mahler, Britten and Elgar while the Britten Weekend moves over to the Red House for a tour of the archive strongrooms (3rd November) while there will also be a celebration across the site of the people who had deep connections to the Red House, namely Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, who founded the Aldeburgh Festival in partnership with librettist/producer Eric Crozier in 1948.

Thursday 18 July 2024

Contemporary contrasts: Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci make highly satisfying double bill at Opera Holland Park

Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna - John Savournin - Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)
Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna - John Savournin - Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna; Clare Presland, Richard Burkhard, John Savournin, director: John Wilkie, conductor: John Andrews
Ruggiero Leoncavallo: Pagliacci; David Butt Philip, Alison Langer, Robert Hayward, Zwakele Tshabalala, Harry Thatcher, director: Martin Lloyd-Evans, conductor: Francesco Cilluffo
Opera Holland Park, reviewed 17 July 2024

Two Italian operas, both dealing with jeopardy make a contrasting double bill in performances that bring both comedy and tragedy to life

Planning operatic double bills is always something of a challenge, but having paired early Puccini with Delius in 2022 [see my review], Opera Holland Park has returned with another intriguing pairing. Taking the imaginative decision to consider Leoncavallo's Pagliacci on its own rather than in tandem with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, the company paired it with a revival of their 2019 production of Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna, putting together two operas both by Italians, composed within less than 20 years of each other and both dealing with matrimonial jealousy, the one comic and the other tragic. 

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - David Butt Philip, Alison Langer - Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - David Butt Philip, Alison Langer - Opera Holland Park (Photo: Ali Wright)

We began with Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna, written in 1909 and one of the composer's few operas to retain anything like its place in the repertoire. Wolf-Ferrari applies a light yet imaginative touch to the music, the style is full of sly references yet sparkles along. John Wilkie directed, with John Andrews conducting the City of London Sinfonia with Richard Burkhard as the Count, Clare Presland as the Countess, and John Savournin in the silent role of Sante. Designs were by takis.

Wednesday 17 July 2024

Belgian ensemble, Ayres Extemporae, winners of the 2024 York International Young Artists Competition at the National Centre for Early Music

Ayres Extemporae
Ayres Extemporae, winners of the 2024 York International Young Artists Competition

The 2024 York International Young Artists Competition took place on Saturday 13 July 2024 at the National Centre for Early Music in York, as the climax to this year's York Early Music Festival. Eight ensembles took place in the final, during the two days before the final each ensemble gave an informal recital at the National Centre for Early Music in York with the aim of giving the musicians the opportunity to adapt to the performance space and to get to know the festival audience members in advance of the final.

Ayres Extemporae, based in Belgium, were awarded the first prize, receiving a professional recording contract from Linn Records, a £1,000 cash prize, a future paid engagement with the York Early Music Festival, and recording opportunities with BBC Radio 3. 

UK based Apollo’s Cabinet took the Friends of York Early Music Festival award, a cash prize of £1,000, Ensemble Bastion won a cash prize of £1,000 endowed by the EUBO Development Trust, for the Most Promising Young Artist(s) specialising in the Baroque repertoire and  [hanse] Pfeyfferey (from Germany) took the Cambridge Early Music Prize, which includes a paid performance in Cambridge.

Ayres Extemporae are Moldovan-Spanish violinist Xenia Gogu, Spanish cellist Víctor García García, playing on a five-string cello piccolo. and Portuguese cellist Teresa Madeira and their programme consisted of Biber's Sonata for violin and continuo in E Minor, C. 142, Bach's Erbarme dich from Ich armer Mensch ich Sündenknecht, BWV 55 for tenor, flute and continuo (arr. for violoncello piccolo, violin and continuo)  and Bach's Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G major, BWV1027  (arr. for violoncello piccolo, violin and continuo).

The final is available to watch on the NCEM website.

Full details from the NCEM website.

A sound world that is at once distinctive, appealing and engaging: Maria Faust's Mass of Mary on Estonian Record Productions

Maria Faust: Mass of Mary; Collegium Musicale, Helina Kuljus, Lili Kirikal, Oliver Povel, Maria Faust, Kirstjan Kungla, Indrek Vau, Andres Kontus, conductor: Endrik Üksvärav; Estonian Record Productions Reviewed 16 July 2024

Maria Faust: Mass of Mary; Collegium Musicale, Helina Kuljus, Lili Kirikal, Oliver Povel, Maria Faust, Kirstjan Kungla, Indrek Vau, Andres Kontus, conductor: Endrik Üksvärav; Estonian Record Productions
Reviewed 16 July 2024

Jazz, chant and polyphony side-by-side in a remarkable Estonian mass dedicated to all victims of domestic violence

Maria Faust is an Estonian jazz artist and composer, and her work as a jazz saxophonist alongside that of conducting ensembles such as the Copenhagen Estonian Choir, and teaching composition and improvisation has all fed into her Mass of Mary. Written in 20202 the work is for chamber choir, vocal soloists and instrumental quartet, with choral music inspired by chant and polyphony alongside more jazz-influenced instrumental contributions.

On this recording from Estonian Record Productions (ERP), Maria Faust's Mass of Mary is performed by the Estonian chamber choir Collegium Musicale with soloists Helina Kuljus (soprano), Lili Kirikal (soprano) and Oliver Povel (tenor), with Maria Faust (alto saxophone), Kirstjan Kungla (bassoon), Indrek Vau (trumpet) and Andres Kontus (trombone) conducted by Endrik Üksvärav.

The work uses the liturgical mass text - Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei - interspersed with poetic texts compiled by Estonian playwright Eero Epner (born 1978) from works by Karl Ristikivi (1912-1977) and other poets. These movements - Mother, Child, Holy Spirit - explore the fragility of familial relationships in cases of victims of domestic violence, and the work is dedicated to all victims of domestic violence. Maria Faust says of her intentions for the piece, 'This work does not blame or teach and does not propose solutions. Rather, it is a consolation, and is the least that I, as a composer and a human being, can do and give to society'.

An intergenerational community: Garsington Opera brings its Youth and Adult community companies together for Andrew Norman's A Trip to the Moon

Andrew Norman: A Trip to the Moon - Youth Company rehearsal, Garsington Opera 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Andrew Norman: A Trip to the Moon - Youth Company rehearsal, Garsington Opera 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)

American composer Andrew Norman is perhaps best known for his orchestral works from Sacred Geometry (2003) to Play (2013) to Sustain (2018), which have won various awards including the 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Music, whilst the Los Angeles Philharmonic won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for their 2019 recording of Sustain.

Norman has, so far, only written one opera, A Trip to the Moon from 2017 which is subtitled 'a melodrama for children'. The work was commissioned by Simon Rattle and premiered in Berlin with the Berlin Philharmonic, 200 volunteer singers and an orchestra made up of school children alongside members of the Philharmonic. Norman says of the piece that it was 'conceived as an experience as much for the wide variety of people making it as for the audience watching it.' But that it is 'first and foremost a children’s opera, to be performed by and for children'. Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra gave the work its first UK performance in a semi-staging at the Barbican Hall. 

Andrew Norman: A Trip to the Moon - Adult Company rehearsal, Garsington Opera 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Andrew Norman: A Trip to the Moon - Adult Company rehearsal, Garsington Opera 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)

Andrew Norman's A Trip to the Moon is now receiving a full staging at Garsington Opera on 30 and 31 July 2024, directed by Karen Gillingham, (Gasington's Creative Director of Learning & Participation), and conducted by Douglas Boyd with the Philharmonia Orchestra, professional soloists including Robert Murray and Jennifer France, and the Garsington Opera Youth and Adult community companies, plus children from two local primary schools making some 150 local people in all. 

This is a community performance, and as with Garsington's other community ventures, the event is inter-generational, with local people of different generations working shoulder-to-shoulder with professional singers and creative teams.

For many members of the Youth and Adult companies, the performance brings the experience of working alongside professionals as well as the chance to make friends with other company members. As one members of the Adult company put it, 'I have been involved in Garsington Opera Adult Company for over 13 years and I love it. Singing brings me joy and I relish the challenge of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. Learning about the intricate tapestry of an opera’s creation alongside top-tier professionals is something truly wonderful.

As Karen Gillingham explains, 'the infant group (5-7yr olds) came up with moon games - crater hop scotch and meteoroid football. They are bursting with ideas and super cute. One of the children is suffering from severe trauma and is selective mute. He loves the rehearsals and sings during them. It is an act of bravery for him to do this.

Andrew Norman: A Trip to the Moon - Adult Company rehearsal, Garsington Opera 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Andrew Norman: A Trip to the Moon - Adult Company rehearsal, Garsington Opera 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)

The opera takes its theme from Georges Méliès' seminal 1902 silent film [see it on YouTube], and the fantastical opera explores how linguistic barriers must be broken down so that Earth people can communicate with Moon people, who have their own lyrical lunar language, and eventually they all learn to rise above their mutual mistrust and come together to overcome a mysterious threat.

The images in this article were taken at recent rehearsals for A Trip to the Moon with the Garsington Opera Youth and Adult community companies at the new Garsington Studios.

Full details from Garsington Opera's website.

Tuesday 16 July 2024

A rich sophistication of thought running through this programme that seems worlds away from the typical debut recital: Awakenings from Laurence Kilsby & Ella O'Neill

Awakenings: Brahms, Saint-Saens, Wolf, Schoenberg, Stenhamer, Rebecca Clarke, Prokofiev, Hugh Wood, Jake Heggie, Weill, Britten: Laurence Kilsby, Ella O'Neill; AVI Music

Awakenings: Brahms, Saint-Saens, Wolf, Schoenberg, Stenhamer, Rebecca Clarke, Prokofiev, Hugh Wood, Jake Heggie, Weill, Britten: Laurence Kilsby, Ella O'Neill; AVI Music
Reviewed 15 July 2024

An intriguing & eclectic programme full of disturbing elements complemented by performances of remarkable maturity enlightened with the dark, burnished tones of Kilsby's voice

On this disc from tenor Laurence Kilsby and pianist Ella O'Neill on AVI Music (in co-production with SWR Kultur), under the title Awakenings we are presented with a programme that moves from Brahms to Saint-Saens, to Wolf, to Schoenberg, to Stenhamer, to Rebecca Clarke, to Wolf, to Prokofiev, to Hugh Wood, to Jake Heggie, to Weill, to Schoenberg, to Britten, to Clarke to Heggie. It is quite an eclectic mix, yet the songs are drawn together under quite a sophisticated theme. As Kilsby explains, "There is an idea that the darkest, most lustful and impulsive versions of ourselves stem from our innocence being corrupted. This idea forms the basis of this programme through its sub-themes of inexperience, naivety and corruption."

There is a rich sophistication of thought running through this programme that seems worlds away from the typical debut recital. For a start, few of the songs are well-known and few pop up in the recitals of young singers. Also, having chosen such a surprising and questioning subject for the recital, Kilsby and O'Neill bring it off with poise, sophistication and real depth. There is a burnished darkness to Kilsby's tone, that really suits the music, and his performances have a questing thoughtfulness that real impresses. 

Appealing to an opera audience with song repertoire: Opera in Song returns to Opera Holland Park

Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin - James Baillieu, Julien Van Mellaerts, Christopher Purves - Opera in Song at Opera Holland Park, 2022
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin - James Baillieu, Julien Van Mellaerts, Christopher Purves - Opera in Song at Opera Holland Park, 2022

Opera in Song, curated by baritone Julien Van Mellaerts and pianist Dylan Perez, has returned to Opera Holland Park for the fourth season. Last month there was a masterclass for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and a gala concert to celebrate her 80th birthday. This week there are three recitals on 18, 20 and 21 July. An exciting programme features a mix of new faces and returning figures. New are mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, baritone Benjamin Appl, soprano Harriet Burns and pianist Ian Burnside, returning are Julien Van Mellaerts, Dylan Perez and tenor Nicky Spence, along with this years crop of Opera Holland Park Young Artists. The result does exactly what Julien Van Mellaerts and Dylan Perez intended from the beginning, pairing established artists with up and coming talent.

Thursday's recital (18 July 2024) has the title Ballads and Legends and Julien Van Mellaerts sees it very much as an exploration of opera as song. Helen Charlston and Julien Van Mellaerts with Dylan Perez will be performing music by Charles Stanford, Rebecca Clarke, Carl Loewe, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Paolo Tosti, along with Haydn's dramatic scena, Arianna a Naxos

The evening will feature the premiere of Oded Zehavi’s Songs of the Sea, a sequence of songs commissioned by Julien Van Mellaerts, with lyrics by the poets Bill Manhire, Laura Attridge, and Claire Simon, respectively from New Zealand, Britain and France, referencing Julien Van Mellaerts three countries of origin. Composer Oded Zehavi is from Tel Aviv, and the sea is something that runs through Julien Van Mellaerts family. The cycle tells three different stories of the seas, presenting three very different versions of the sea.

Saturday's recital (20 July 2024) is an exploration of Frauenliebe und -Leben, with Benjamin Appl, Harriet Burns and Ian Tindale. The performance of Schumann's song-cycle exploring a woman's life and love (albeit written by a male poet and a male composer) will be expanded and interleaved with songs by Franz Schubert, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Liza Lehmann, Rebecca Clarke, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Nico Muhly and others that use the narrative to explore things from a more 21st century point of view. 

On Sunday (21 July 2024) the final recital features Nicky Spence and Dylan Perez hosting a Comedy and Cabaret recital with the Opera Holland Park Young Artists featuring music by Stephen Sondheim, Tom Lehrer, Kurt Weill, Jonathan Dove, William Bolcom, Gilbert & Sullivan, Noel Coward, Victoria Wood and more.

With the introduction of a piano into the auditorium, bringing the singers and pianist closer to the audience, Julien Van Mellaerts finds this closeness to the audience brings a surprising immediacy and intimacy to the performances.

The Opera in Song recitals at Opera Holland Park have proved popular in the past, with their mix of established artists and young talent. Julien Van Mellaerts and Dylan Perez hope that this year's fascinating mix will continue that, appealing to an opera audience with song repertoire.

Full details from the Opera Holland Park website.

Monday 15 July 2024

London Mozart Players in 2024/25: Resident at Fairfield Halls, performing at Smith Square Hall & on the South coast, plus a new season at St Martin-in-the-Fields

London Mozart Players in 2024/25:

London Mozart Players is resident at Fairfield Halls, Croydon and performs at Smith Square Hall and on the South coast, but in addition the orchestra launches its 2024/25 season with six concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields. In September, violinist Ruth Rogers directs Four World Season which fuses Vivaldi and Roxanna Panufnik’s interpretation of the world’s seasons, complete with live immersive digital projections which will transform St Martin’s into a visual spectacle. In October, Jonathan Bloxham conducts the orchestra in Mendelssohn and the Schumanns with Louis Schwizgebel in Schumann's Piano Concerto, Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Clara Schumann's Three Romances (an orchestration of her late masterpiece for violin and piano). November sees Jonathan Bloxham returning for The Ages of Mozart with pianist Angela Hewitt in programme which moves from Mozart's Symphony No. 1 to Symphony No. 6 'Linz' plus Piano Concerto No. 9 'Jeunehomme'.

The new year sees French Connections: Music from the Parisian Stage with pianist Zee Zee in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, Flights of Fancy with programmatic music from RVW to Coleridge Taylor, and A Place in Time when the orchestra's Education Ambassador, saxophonist Jess Gillam, joins the orchestra as soloist and presenter for this folk-inspired programme.

Other events include Christmas with London Mozart Players at Smith Square Hall with the LMP Brass ensemble, Croydon SDA Gospel Choir and Trinity Boys Choir and Trinity Girls Choir. The brass ensemble will also travel to Henry Ward Hall, Hastings and St John’s, Upper Norwood for Christmas Crackers. In Croydon, Changing Seasons ;at Fairfield Halls responds to the climate emergency by interspersing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with new seasonal-themed commissions from four community groups; Queer Croydon, Club Soda, Subrang Arts and Croydon Music & Arts. The event will be preceded by a free afternoon showcase in the open spaces of Fairfield Halls, featuring local talent from over 30 music and dance groups.

The orchestra's LMP on the Move initiative will be popping up in local community venues and public places around the Borough of Croydon, bringing accessible performance formats to the local residents throughout the year. The orchestra will also take LMP on the Move to Hastings, building on their residency on the South coast. The orchestra's community residencies in Upper Norwood and on the South coast continue with Marvellous Maestros (St John’s, Upper Norwood) and Now That’s What I Call (Classical) Music: Baroque to Rock (De La Warr Pavilion), both focusing on the GCSE music set-work syllabus, helping local students to prepare for their exams.      

Full details from LMP's website.

Dynamic duo: director Adele Thomas and creative producer Sarah Crabtree to take over as WNO's General Director and CEO

Adele Thomas
Adele Thomas

Welsh National Opera has announced that opera and theatre director Adele Thomas and creative producer Sarah Crabtree will jointly take up the role of WNO's General Director and CEO in January 2025, following on from Aidan Lang who stepped down at the end of 2023.

Welsh-born Adele Thomas is directing WNO's new production of Verdi's Rigoletto (for which plans were already in place) which premieres at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff this September before touring to Llandudno, Plymouth, Oxford and Southampton. 

Thomas' opera directing has included Handel's Semele at Glyndebourne, Verdi's Il Trovatore at the Royal Opera House, a vividly theatrical production Vivaldi's Bajazet for Irish National Opera in 2022 [see my review] and a brilliant re-invention of Handel's Berenice for London Handel Festival and the Royal Opera in 2019 [see my review].

Sarah Crabtree is Creative Producer and head of Linbury Theatre (opera) at The Royal Opera House, where highlights include overseeing the world premieres of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Coraline [see our review] at the Barbican, Philip Venable’s 4.48 Psychosis [see my review], Laura Bowler's The Blue Woman and Oliver Leith’s Last Days

Sarah Crabtree (© 2023 ROH. Photographed by Charlie Clift)
Sarah Crabtree (© 2023 ROH. Photographed by Charlie Clift)

Many will remember Sarah Crabtree from her time at Opera Holland Park where she worked from 2006 to 2015, becoming Associate Producer to James Clutton there in 2012; she commissioned Opera Holland Park’s first ever new work, Will Todd’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 2012.

Full details from the WNO website.

Fine singing and vivid character in this revival of John Cox's vintage production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at Garsington

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - David Ireland, Claire Lees - Garsington Opera, 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - David Ireland, Claire Lees - Garsington Opera, 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro; David Ireland, Claire Lees, Rafael Fingerlos, Samantha Clarke, Bethany Horak-Hallett, director: John Cox/Bruno Ravella, Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor: Tabita Berglund; Garsington Opera
Reviewed 14 July 2024

A solidly sung revival of a production that is becoming a classic, telling the story with clarity and vivid detail, with classy singing that lifted this from an ordinary revival

John Cox's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro was created back in 2005 for a very different Garsington, when the company was in its original home. It is a classic production, one that tells the story with elegance, clarity and humour. This year, the production was revived by director Bruno Ravella. We caught the performance on 14 July 2024, when Tabita Berglund conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra with David Ireland as Figaro, Claire Lees as Susanna, Rafael Fingerlos as the Count, Samantha Clarke as the Countess, Bethany Horak-Hallett as Cherubino, Neal Davies as Dr. Bartolo, Susan Bickley as Marcellina, Stephanie Hershaw as Barbarina and Paul Nilon as Don Basilio. Designs were by Robert Perdziola, with lighting by Malcolm Rippeth.

Perdziola's set started out as an assemblage of architectural fragments, providing the corner of Figaro and Susanna's room along with necessary corridors. For the scene change to Act Two, the set was simplified and altered, and then for Act Three it was simplified again, whilst the entire set was re-dressed for the garden scene. It might have not been the most luxurious of sets, but Perdziola succeeded in capturing the right atmosphere (I loved the forbidding neo-Velázquez portrait gallery) and for the complexities of the more farcical moments in Acts One and Two, the set provided just the right engine. Even here, there were imaginative touches, so that in Act Two we could see inside the closet with first Cherubino (Bethany Horak-Hallett) and then Susanna (Claire Lees) patiently waiting.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Claire Lees, Samantha Clarke - Garsington Opera, 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Claire Lees, Samantha Clarke - Garsington Opera, 2024 (Photo: Julian Guidera)

Saturday 13 July 2024

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

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

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

Aníbal Vidal
Aníbal Vidal

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

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

Friday 12 July 2024

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

Nordic Soundscapes: Philharmonia

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

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

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

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

Nordic Aurora

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

Full details from the Philharmonia's website.

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Our June newsletter has landed


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

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

Our latest newsletter has landed on MadMimi and on LinkedIn.

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

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

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

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

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

Further details from the Pitlochry Festival Theatre's website.

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

Temple Church
Temple Church

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the Temple Music website.

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

Vienna Opera Festival 2023
Vienna Opera Festival 2023

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

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

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

Full details from the festival website.

Tuesday 9 July 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full details from the Continuo Foundation's website.

Monday 8 July 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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