Saturday, 4 February 2023

Unexpected creativity: cellist Margaret Maria and soprano Donna Brown talk about the joys of collaboration on the words and music of their album Between Worlds

Donna Brown and Margaret Maria
Donna Brown and Margaret Maria

Cellist and composer Margaret Maria and soprano Donna Brown, both Canadian, have been collaborating on an album, Between Worlds, which has recently been released on the Canadian Music Centre's Centrediscs label. Consisting of eight songs which feature Donna's voice and her words, plus Margaret's music and her cello, the album is very much a joint venture. 

As a soprano, Donna began her opera career with Peter Brook's production of La Tragédie de Carmen, a work which involved two months of intensive workshops with Peter Brook, learning his method of acting based on Stanislavsky, followed by three months of performing La Tragédie de Carmen in Paris, and then touring it throughout Europe for a year with his troupe. Since then she has performed all over the world and had special collaborations for over 15 years with Helmuth Rilling and John Eliot Gardiner, doing numerous recordings with both of them. 

Margaret trained as a classical cellist as a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and was a professional cellist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra, she has since developed a career as a composer very much focusing on her own instrument. Her most recent solo album was Where Words Fail - Music For Healing from 2021, with music is born 'in the hope that it can be helpful to others…it can offer some healing, some understanding, some comfort, some strength when we feel weak or when words fail us'.

They see their new album as very much a creative outflow from two people, and the moods and emotions of the music they hope will elicit a reaction from listeners, and they comment that it is almost a mini-opera in the sense of journey, the music takes you there and back. They want the album to be a piece that makes people react. 

Friday, 3 February 2023

It's Today! A Out of the Shadows - 3 February 2023

Burke murdering Margery Campbell

As you are probably aware, our concert Out of the Shadows takes place today, Friday, 3 February 2023 at Hinde Street Methodist Church, London W1U 2QJ, not far from Oxford Street Tube. We have a programme that explores the lives of gay men in the 19th century, from the earliest tentative admissions of same-sex attraction to cruising in a bathhouse in Imperial Russia, alongside a search for eternal life from cryogenics and the body-snatching of Burke and Hare (see the period illustration above) to Frankenstein and Walt Whitman. 

There will also be love songs, setting texts by Michelangelo and the Black American poet Carl Cook, along with one of my cabaret songs and selections from my early song cycle, Songs of Love and Loss including a description of an early AIDS candlelight memorial.

Out of the Shadows: an evening of Robert Hugill's songs for LGBT History Month

The performers are
Ben Vonberg-Clark (tenor) and James Atkinson (tenor) with Nigel Foster (piano). Tickets and further details from EventBrite.

And looking further ahead, I am delighted that we have been invited to perform the programme in July 2024 at the Glasperlenspiel Festival in Tartu, Estonia. The festival's founder and artistic director is the distinguished Estonian composer Peeter Vähi, and during 2024 Tartu will be celebrating being European Capital of Culture.

We are all looking forward to next week's concert immensely, and do hope to see you there.

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir

Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir; Estonian National Male Choir, Mikk Üleoja, Theodor Sink; Toccata Classics
Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir; Estonian National Male Choir, Mikk Üleoja, Theodor Sink; Toccata Classics
Reviewed 27 January 2023 (★★★★★)

A simply stunning disc that brings together the rich and complex sound world of the Russian-trained Estonian composer Galina Grigorjeva with the terrific musicality of the Estonian National Male Choir

In 2017, I was in Tallinn at the Estonian Music Days when I heard Vox Clamantis, conductor Jaan-Eik Tulve in a performance of Galina Grigorjeva's Vespers [see my review] and I was very taken with her work. Since then, I have not had the opportunity to hear more. Now Toccata Classics has issued a disc of Galina Grigorjeva's music for male-voice choir, performed by the Estonian National Male Choir, conductor Mikk Üleoja, with Theodor Sink (cello).

The disc includes Nox vitae (2006-2008), Diptych (2011), God is the Lord (2014), Prayer (2005/2022), Agnus Dei (2022) and In Paradisum (2012). Nox Vitae sets poems by the Russian symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky (1856–1909), whilst all the other works take texts from Russian Orthodox and Roman liturgies.

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Peter Grimes in Paris: a powerful performance from Allan Clayton as he leads the Paris revival of Deborah Warner's striking production

Britten: Peter Grimes - Simon Keenlyside, Allan Clayton - Paris Opera (Photo Vincent Pontet/OnP)
Britten: Peter Grimes - Simon Keenlyside, Allan Clayton - Paris Opera (Photo Vincent Pontet/OnP)

Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes; Allan Clayton, Maria Bengtsson, Simon Keenlyside, director: Deborah Warner, conductor: Alexander Soddy; Paris Opera at Palais Garnier
Reviewed 29 January 2023

A profoundly beautiful and thoughtful account of the title role allied to Warner's remarkably rethought and disturbing contemporary production make for a Peter Grimes that is outstanding in all ways

We missed the new production of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes at Covent Garden last year owing to illness, but as the production is shared between Madrid, London, Paris and Rome, we were able to treat ourselves to a January trip to Paris to see it. Deborah Warner's production of Peter Grimes opened at the Palais Garnier on 26 January 2023, conducted by Alexander Soddy and we caught the second performance on 29 January 2023.

The cast was virtually unaltered from London, with Allan Clayton as Peter Grimes, Maria Bengtsson as Ellen Orford, Simon Keenlyside as Bulstrode, John Graham Hall as Bob Bowles, Jacques Imbrailo as Ned Keene, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Auntie, Rose Aldridge as Mrs Sedley, Stephen Richardson as Hobson, John Gilchrist as Revd Horace Adams, Clive Bayley as Swallow and Anna-Sophie Neher and Ilanah Lobel-Torres as the nieces.

Britten: Peter Grimes - Paris Opera (Photo Vincent Pontet/OnP)
Britten: Peter Grimes - Paris Opera (Photo Vincent Pontet/OnP)

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Over 3000 performers, Photos of August Manns and the chorus and orchestra at the 1897 Handel Festival at Crystal Palace

 

August Manns at the Handel Festival at Crystal Palace in 1897
August Manns at the Handel Festival at Crystal Palace in 1897

In 1856, the idea arose of commemorating the centenary of the death of Handel with a series of concerts at Crystal Palace, such was the success of the idea that a preliminary festival was held at Crystal Palace in 1857. This led to the Triennial Handel Festival which continued until 1926. From 1855 to 1901, the director of music at Crystal Palace was the conductor August Manns (1825-1907). Included in the article are a selection of photographs of Manns and the Crystal Palace chorus and orchestra during the 1897 Handel Festival. 

The photographs belong to a client of our framers, Alec Drew Picture Frames Ltd, and we are very grateful to them for allowing the pictures to be shared. There are two further pictures after the break.

A virtuosic cascade of ecstatic and endless deep listening: The Hermes Experiment with Shiva Feshareki

Shiva Fesharecki - Milton Court Concert Hall
Shiva Fesharecki - Milton Court Concert Hall (Photo Emma Werner)

Oliver Leith, Stevie Wishart, Mira Calix, Jethro Cooke & The Hermes Experiment, Shiva Feshareki; The Hermes Experiment, Shiva Fesharecki; Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 26 January 2023

The Hermes Experiment join forces with Shiva Fesharecki taking us on a journey that combines the ensemble's distinctive sound with Fesharecki's to explore sonic boundaries

At the Barbican's Milton Court Concert Hall on 26 January 2023, The Hermes Experiment (Anne Denholm - harp, Marianne Schofield - double bass, Oliver Pashley - clarinet, Héloïse Werner – soprano) presented a programme that took them from Oliver Leith's Uh huh, Yeah, Stevie Wishart's Eurostar - a journey between cities in sound, and Mira Calix's DMe, to the group's own collaboration with Jethro Cooke, Metropolis and ending with a new collaboration with Shiva Feshareki (composer, turntables, electronics), TRANSFIGURE.

The concert opened with the wonderfully laconic and understated Uh huh, Yeah by Oliver Leith. The whole first half was planned and intended to be an introduction to the extended deep listening of the second half, and this strangely melancholic and resigned work set the tone from the very beginning, with Werner's usually dramatic and characterful voice restricted to repeating the words of the title (the only text of the piece) while the gentle and wistful instrumental music gradually slid downwards and ran out of steam.

The Hermes Experiment and Shiva Fesharecki - Milton Court Concert Hall
The Hermes Experiment and Shiva Fesharecki - Milton Court Concert Hall (Photo Emma Werner)

Part of her musical journey: violinist Esther Yoo chats about recording the Barber and Bruch concertos

Esther Yoo and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in recording sessions for their new disc (Photo: Frances Marshall )
Esther Yoo and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in recording sessions for their new disc (Photo: Frances Marshall )

The violinist Esther Yoo has a new disc out, a pairing of Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), conductor Vasily Petrenko and issued on the Deutsche Grammophon label. Both concertos have personal significance for Esther, whilst her relationship with the RPO goes back to 2018 when she was the orchestra's first artist in residence.

The recording started with the idea to record the Bruch concerto, a work Esther grew up with and has known from childhood. In fact, it is the work that inspired her to try to become a better violinist, so that she could produce the noble character and sound that the concerto requires. So, it is very much a part of her musical journey and identity. The Barber concerto is a more recent link, she felt very connected to it as soon as she first came across it. Both works are very heart on sleeve, there is nothing hidden and she feels that both are very relatable. Whilst the two are contrasting in style, they work well together.

There are, of course, plenty of other recordings of both concertos, particularly the Bruch, but then you can say that about other concertos that she has recorded, including the Tchaikovsky and the Sibelius concertos, with fabulous recordings by violinists of previous generations. But equally, Esther feels that every musician has something to say in a piece, the beauty of the repertoire lives on and there is space for each new interpretation. 

Friday, 27 January 2023

Calling all young musicians: Scottish Young Musicians launches Ensemble of the Year, 2023

Scottish Young Musicians launches Ensemble of the Year, 2023

Scottish Young Musicians is seeking to find the best young music group in Scotland, with entries open to all school-aged pupils in the country. The 2023 Ensemble of the Year competition is inviting entries from ensembles playing any grouping of instruments. The competition is on-line, open to ensembles of 3 to 12 players who play together regularly in a formal group from a school or recognised music organisation. There is no minimum age or standard, but members must be school students in Scotland.

The chosen video entries will then be submitted for judging by a panel of adjudicators. The winning ensemble will be awarded the title of Ensemble of the Year and receive a cash prize to further their musical experiences, plus a trophy designed and donated by Alexander Stoddart, the King’s Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, and an expenses paid trip to play at the Solo Performer of the Year National Final on Sunday 21st May at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The deadline for entries is 31 March 2023, full details from the Scottish Young Musicians website.

Mangling Médée: why are stylistically appropriate performances of Cherubini's opera so rare?

Cherubini: Medea - Sondra Radvanovsky - Metropolitan Opera (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Cherubini: Medea - Sondra Radvanovsky - Metropolitan Opera (Photo Metropolitan Opera)

Mangling Médée: In the wake BBC Radio 3's broadcast of Cherubini's Medea from New York's Metropolitan Opera, we look at why stylistically appropriate performances of Cherubini's 1797 opera remain such a rarity

Last October (2022), the Metropolitan Opera in New York presented its first-ever production of Cherubini's Medea (recently heard on BBC Radio 3). The work was famously associated with Maria Callas, and the Met history of the opera is linked to Rudolph Bing's failure to woo the diva to sing the role in New York. Perhaps because of this history, the performance in October used the version of the opera that Callas performed. This is a version created in 1909 for the work's debut at La Scala, Milan. This used the shortened version of the opera which Cherubini presented in Vienna in 1809, replaced the spoken dialogue with recitatives that had been created for a German version of the opera presented in Frankfurt in 1855 and added an entirely new Italian translation. 

The result is to present a stylistic mish-mash which is a long way from Cherubini's intentions, adjusting it to suit the style of early 20th-century Italian opera with its emphasis on verismo, and this includes slow tempos reflecting that the leading roles were being sung by vastly different voices to those of the original singers. In fact, that 1909 La Scala performance starred verismo soprano Ester Mazzoleni, though the work can hardly be counted as a success because it did not reoccur in Italy until Callas took it up, in Florence in 1953! 

Thursday, 26 January 2023

How we come together to understand the legacy of enslavement: Insurrection: A work in progress at the Royal Opera House

Rehearsals for Insurrection (Photo Sama Kai)
Rehearsals for Insurrection (Photo Sama Kai)

The Barbados Rebellion of April 1816 was the largest slave revolt in Barbadian history. It only lasted a few weeks, as the enslaved men and women, who worked on the island’s many estates and plantations, were defeated by the Colonial Militia. What we know about the rebellion largely comes from the victors, the colonialists, the enslaved were rarely, if ever, able to tell their stories. But what we have is their music, the songs they sang.

A new project at the Royal Opera House, Insurrection: A work in progress, explores this story using the folk songs sung by enslaved workers and their descendants, including rebel music banned on plantations due to the fear of hidden messages, British pro-slavery propaganda songs, abolitionist hymns, and 19th century opera enjoyed by enslavers. Insurrection is a work in progress and will be presented as a series of semi-staged sharings to explore how we come together to understand the legacy of enslavement. The events in the Linbury Theatre run from 21 to 25 March 2023, which is International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The new work is being developed by Peter Brathwaite, baritone, artist and broadcaster (Peter Brathwaite sang the role of the Old Gardener in my opera The Gardeners in 2019), and represents an investigation of his own ancestors who were enslaved workers and enslavers on sugar plantations in Barbados. Insurrection charts the story of rebellion and resistance in Barbados, and celebrates the human need to gather, move, make music, and tell stories, amid, and in response to, oppression.

Insurrection is a collaboration between Brathwaite, director Ellen McDougall, writer Emily Aboud, and music director Yshani Perinpanayagam who is arranging the original musical material.

Full details from the Royal Opera House website.

Faces in the Mist: the first disc devoted to Richard Peat's striking and evocative music

Faces in the mist: Choral music of Richard Peat
Faces in the mist: Choral music of Richard Peat; The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, The Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral, Sarah MacDonald (conductor), Adam McDonagh (piano), Michael Sedgwick (trumpet), Aaron Shilson (organ), Anne Denholm (harp); Regent Records
Reviewed 26 January 2023 (★★★)

The first disc devoted to the lovely choral music of Richard Peat, always imaginative and full of evocative moments

Faces in the Mist from Regent Records is the first disc devoted to the choral music of Richard Peat, a varied collection of both sacred and secular works spreading over the last 20 years. Sarah MacDonald conducts the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, and the Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral, with Adam McDonagh (piano), Michel Sedgwick (trumpet), Aaron Shilson (organ) and Anne Denholm (harp).

Richard Peat’s first publicly performed work, Tenebrae, was premièred by the Britten Sinfonia at the Sounds New festival in 1997 while he was still at school. He studied at City University with Rhian Samuel (where he completed his doctorate in 2007) and privately with Paul Max Edlin. In 2008 he studied with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies on the Advanced Composition course at the Dartington International Summer School and he was again selected in 2021 to study with Nico Muhly.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Out of the Shadows in the Brixton Bugle

 

Out of the Shadows - Brixton Bugle - February 2022

The February issue of The Brixton Bugle, my local newspaper has a lovely little article about Out of the Shadows, our forthcoming concert for LGBT+ History Month at Hinde Street Methodist Church on 3 February 2023. The digital version of the article isn't on-line yet, but if you click on the image then you should get one big enough to read.

The Brixton Bugle is a free community newspaper that is printed monthly with 10,000 copies distributed around Brixton. Both the Brixton Bugle and the Brixton Blog are published by a Community Interest Company which is run for the benefit of the community. The blog was begun by Zoe Jewell in 2010, and she and Tim Dickens started the Bugle in 2012. In November 2013 they were nominated for Innovation of the Year at the British Journalism Awards.

Full information about the concert and tickets from EventBrite.

Combining classical repertoire with experimentation and unconventional instruments: Les Salons en Musique at the Institut français

Les Salons en Musique

The Institut français created its concert series,  Les Salons en Musique on the occasion of the restoration of its 1907 Pleyel grand piano in 2018, and the series continues to be an innovative exploration of contemporary trends in chamber music.

Coming up in February, on 2 February the Trio No Bad Vibes (Percussions de Strasbourg) presents L’Air(e) as the three percussionists, Francois Papirer, Enrico Pedicone, and Remi Schwartz, explore a diversity of percussion instruments mixing improvisation and performance with music by Jacques Rebotier, Steve Reich, and others. [further details].

Further ahead there are concerts from pianist, composer and improvisor, Pascale Berthelot, and Ensemble Variances (founded French composer and pianist Thierry Pécou)

Full details from the Institut français website.

Lyricism, melancholy & sadness: pianist Ruth McGinley & composer Neil Martin collaborate on Aura

Aura - Ruth McGinley, Neil Martin
Aura: traditional Irish melodies arranged by Neil Martin; Ruth McGinley
Reviewed 25 January 2023 (★★★½)

Unashamedly Romantic, this new disc takes ten traditional Irish tunes and takes them into new and hauntingly evocative territories


For her latest album, Derry-born pianist Ruth McGinley has returned somewhat to her roots and produced a disc of Irish airs re-imagined, in collaboration with Belfast composer Neil Martin. Aura (available via Bandcamp) is the least folksy of discs, though the ten tracks all have their origins in traditional melodies - nine are Martin's arrangements of traditional melodies whilst the tenth is Martin's own work which seems to be imbued with the same spirit.

There is little sense of the folksy about these piano solos, despite the background material. Martin's arrangements unashamedly take the music into a classical, Romantic territory. The tunes are rarely far away, but Martin weaves around them textures which play to McGinley's strengths as a player who moves between the classical world and the worlds of jazz and folk. Her debut disc, Reconnection, which was issued in 2016, represents a reconnection between McGinley and the piano, playing in her own music that touched her after stepping back from performing, following the intensity of her early career (she was in the piano final of BBC Young Musician in 1994).

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Flavio, Orfeo and more: Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival announces its 2023 programme

Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell'Indie - Jake Arditti, Franco Fagioli & Mayan Licht at Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival in 2022 (Photo Falk von Traubenberg)
Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell'Indie - Jake Arditti, Franco Fagioli & Mayan Licht at Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival in 2022 (Photo Falk von Traubenberg)

Last September we finally made it to Bayreuth for Max Emanuel Cencic's Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival which takes place in the 18th century splendour of the Margravial Opera House. Last year, the focus of the festival was the first modern revival of Leonardo Vinci's Alessandro nell'Indie in a spectacular production that recreated the premiere's use of male singers for both male and female roles [see my review].

The programme for the 2023 Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival has now been announced and the festival, which takes place from 7 to 17 September 2023 will, for the first time, have two staged operas. There will be a new production of Handel's Flavio, Re de' Longobardi, directed by Max Emanuel Cencic with Julia Lezhneva, Max Emanuel Cencic, Yuriy Mynenko, Sonja Runje, Rémy Brès-Feuillet and Sreten Manojlovic. Benjamin Bayl will direct from the harpsichord with Concerto Köln, the resident orchestra at the festival. Flavio dates from 1723 and was the composers fourth full-length opera for the Royal Academy of Music. Unusually concise for the period, the opera is an interesting mix of tragedy and comedy.

Alongside this will be a production of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, originally seen at the Athens Megaron in 2017 as part of the celebrations for the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi's birth. The production combines Monteverdi with new music, transcriptions and live electronics by Panos Iliopoulos, all a conception of music director Markellos Chryssicos. Directed by Thanos Papakonstantinou, the production features Rolando Villazón as Orfeo.

Recitals include counter-tenor Valer Sabadus in arias by Carl Heinrich Graun with {oh!} Orkiestra, soprano Véronique Gens in Passion with Ensemble Les Surprises with music by Lully, Henry Desmarest, André Cardinal Destouches, Pascal Collasse and François Rebel, counter-tenor Bruno de Sá explores arias from the Neapolitan school with nuovo barocco and tenor Daniel Behle presents arias from the second half of the 18th century that have remained unheard since the time of their composition 

Full details from the festival website.

My Sailor, My Love

The Belgian composer Michelino Bisceglia (his family is Italian in origin) has written soundtracks for a number of feature films. The latest is the Irish film, My Sailor, My Love directed by Finnish director Klaus Härö (his English-language debut). Bisceglia's soundtrack for the film, written for classical orchestra, was conducted by him at the Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium. The above video (also on YouTube) features a clip from the music sessions and the full score is available on Spotify.

In addition to his film work, Bisceglia is working on a new concerto for trumpet and orchestra. And he will be working on the soundtrack for the new film Sleep by Jan-Willem van Ewijk. Bisceglia is also a noted jazz pianist, being nominated twice as best Belgian jazz musician of the year, and performing at international jazz festivals with his own jazz trio.

Style and elegance: with Bach-Abel Society, Les Ombres take us back to the elegant evenings of the Bach-Abel concerts in London

Bach-Abel Society - Bach, Abel, Schroter, Haydn; Les Ombres; Mirare
Bach-Abel Society - Bach, Abel, Schröter, Haydn; Les Ombres; Mirare
Reviewed 17 January 2023 (★★★★★)

A delightful and imaginative disc which takes us into the salons of London at the height of the popularity of the Bach-Abel concerts with music full of style and elegance

Carl Friedrich Abel arrived in London in 1759 (aged 36), and Johann Christian Bach would arrive in 1762 (aged 27). The two knew each other, their fathers were friends and colleagues (Bach senior had worked with Abel senior at the court in Köthen). By 1765 Bach and Abel had set up a concert series in London, initially as part of society queen Teresa Cornelys' fashionable assemblies at Carlisle House in Soho Square, then in Almack's Room in King Street and finally in the purpose-built Hanover Square Rooms from 1776. Later years brought financial troubles and the concerts ceased with Bach's death in 1782.

These were not public concerts, the series was open only to the great and the good of society. Their attraction was exclusivity with a subscription list itself controlled by a group of aristocratic female patronesses who vetted potential concert goers. Leading European singers and instrumentalists performed, there were visual delights including paintings by Gainsborough. However, the exclusivity also meant that advertisements for the events fail to give us an idea of either performers or repertoire.

However the ensemble Les Ombres - Margaux Blanchard, viola de gamba & co-musical director, Sylvain Sartre, flute & co-musical director, Fiona McGown, mezzo-soprano, Théotime Langlois de Swarte, violin, Justin Taylor, forte piano, Hanna Salzenstein, cello - have brought together a programme of likely pieces for their disc Bach-Abel Society on Mirare. So here we have quartets by Bach and Abel, viola da gamba solos by Abel, Scots songs arranged by Haydn, and pieces by Johann Samuel Schröter.

Monday, 23 January 2023

Music from Spain and beyond is a theme as the London Festival of Baroque Music returns to St John's Smith Square

London Festival of Baroque Music

The London Festival of Baroque Music returns to St John's Smith Square from 12 to 20 May 2023 for seven days of Baroque music making with 12 concerts featuring a wide range of artists and styles, with an emphasis this year on the music of Spain

The festival opens with a weekend of music devoted to all things Spanish. The Spanish ensemble, La Grande Chapelle presents a programme of Spanish music from the 16th to 18th centuries performed in the round. Spain continues to be the focus for Concerto 1700's programme of chamber music written for 18th century Madrid, whilst the Spanish ensemble L'Apotheose performs music from the Spanish Royal Court from the years 1720 to 1750, mixing music from the Royal Chapel with that written for the theatre, whilst José Miguel Moreno will be giving a recital of music written for vihuela and Baroque guitar. Raquel Andueza and La Galania present a programme of secular Spanish music, alongside songs with texts in Spanish found in European collections. 

Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu, music director Franck-Emmanuel Comte, bring their programme mixing contemporary music with that of Purcell, Lully and Charpentier [see my recent interview with Franck-Emmanuel]. Chamber groups made up of musicians from the Southbank Sinfonia, coached by members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), will be presenting an evening of chamber music, whilst members of the OAE present their own chamber concert with music by Bach, Telemann and Handel. Steven Devine, the OAE's harpsichordist, will be giving a concert and a masterclass, whilst Dr John Scott Whitely give the organ at St John's a workout with music by Bach and his contemporaries.

Full details from St John's Smith Square's website.

My song "We wear the mask" at the London Song Festival: new video released

London Song Festival's concert Friends and Lovers: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor & Paul Laurence Dunbar is now on-line for 30 days on YouTube. The concert includes all of Coleridge-Taylor’s African Romances, and other settings of Dunbar’s poetry by Florence Price, William Grant Still, Betty Jackson King and other composers, performed by Gweneth Ann Rand (soprano), Ronald Samm (tenor)  and Nigel Foster (piano) at Hinde Street Methodist Church. The concert includes the premiere of my song We wear the mask, specially written for this concert, see clip above for the performance from Ronald Samm and Nigel Foster.

Looking ahead, there will be more of my song at Hinde Street Methodist Church on Friday 3 February 2023, when Ben Vonberg-Clark (tenor), James Atkinson (baritone) and Nigel Foster (piano) perform Out of the Shadows, an evening of my songs for LGBT History Month. Further information and tickets from EventBrite.

Party! London's LGBT+ community choir, the Pink Singers celebrate 40 years at the Cadogan Hall

The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023
The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023 (Photo Jessica Rowbottom)
In July 1983 I allowed myself to have my arm twisted and take over as temporary music director of a new gay choir that had been formed in London in May, of that year. Inspired by a visit from the New York City Gay Men's Choir, the Pink Singers was an attempt to create something similar, a London-based gay community choir. Initially, we were small and quirky, and the London gay scene of the 1980s did not quite know what to make of us, but we persisted and developed. When I stopped being music director in 1988, we had already a coherent musical ensemble. Now, 40 years later the Pink Singers is going strong and the 100 something members took to the stage at the Cadogan Hall on Saturday 21 January 2023 under music director Murray Hipkin, to celebrate 40 years.

The programme for the concert mixed show tunes, with the Spice Girls, Witney Houston, Lizzo, Miley Cyrus, Queen and more, in imaginative arrangements often accompanied by a seven-piece band. There was choreography too, some from small groups and at other times the whole ensemble got up to boogie. It was a wonderfully exuberant and engaging evening and might give the wrong idea of the ensemble's ethos. There is a lot more to the Pink Singers, and a series of short introductions from choir members gave us a feel for the other aspects of the ensemble. 

Sunday, 22 January 2023

Aural Adventures: Colin Currie Quartet and Liam Byrne at Kings Place

Liam Byrne at Kings Place (Photo: Viktor Erik Emanuel)
Liam Byrne at Kings Place (Photo: Viktor Erik Emanuel)

Dark Full Ride:
 John Luther Adams, Rolf Wallin, David Lang, Steve Reich, Connor Shafran, Julia Wolfe; Colin Currie Quartet; Kings Place
Reconstructing Resonance: Picforth, Alex Mills, Maddalena Casulana, Nico Muhly; Liam Byrne; Kings Place
Reviewed 20 January 2023

The launch of Sound Unwrapped included two contrasting explorations, four percussionists surrounding the audience, and a single viola da gamba made modern via electronics and sound installation 

Kings Place's new season, Sound Unwrapped, launched on Friday 20 January 2023 with an evening of concerts exploring the season's themes of sound art and ways of listening. In Hall One, the Colin Currie Quartet gave us Dark Ride with John Luther Adams' Qilyaun, Rolf Wallin's Twine, David Lang's the so-called laws of nature, part II, Steve Reich's Drumming, part I, Connor Shafran's Continental Divide and Julia Wolfe's Dark Full Ride. Then later in the evening in Hall Two, Liam Byrne's Reconstructing Resonance combined his viola da gamba with computer software to explore the full range of resonance offered by Hall Two's new Soundscape system installed by d&b audiotechnik, with music by Picforth, Alex Mills, Maddalena Casulana and Nico Muhly providing the starting point.

The Colin Currie Quartet at Kings Place (Photo: Viktor Erik Emanuel)
The Colin Currie Quartet at Kings Place (Photo: Viktor Erik Emanuel)

The Colin Currie Quartet (Colin Currie, Owen Gunnell, Adrian Spillett, Sam Walton) based their programme around pieces where all four percussionists play near-identical instruments. They began with John Luther Adams' 1998 work Qilyaun based on four wooden frame drums; Qilyaun is the name of the drum in the language of the Inupiat people of North East Alaska, where Adams lived between 1978 and 2014. The four percussionists were placed at the four corners of the balcony, thus placing the audience at the centre of the sound. It was a thrilling yet subtle piece, with remarkable changes of timbre and texture. Whether loud or soft, the sound rolled around the hall and at the end as the rhythmic drumming got faster and faster, the results almost approached orgasmic. An observation I made about a number of the pieces in the programme! 

Saturday, 21 January 2023

Advocating for a sense of classicism: conductor Alexander Shelley on recording the music of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann

Alexander Shelley and NAC Orchestra (Photo: Dwayne Brown)
Alexander Shelley and NAC Orchestra (Photo: Dwayne Brown)

The conductor Alexander Shelley has been the music director of the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra in Ottawa since 2015, and he is also principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. With the NAC Orchestra, Shelley is part of the way through a cycle of four double-CD sets on Analekta devoted to the music of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, with the third disc in the set to be released on 3 March 2023. This new release features the third symphonies of Schumann and Brahms with songs, piano music and the Piano Trio by Clara Schumann, performed by Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra with soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, pianists Liz Upchurch, Gabriela Montero, and Stewart Goodyear, violinist Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster of the NAC Orchestra) and cellist Rachel Mercier (principal cello of the NAC Orchestra).

Each of the double CD sets features one of the four symphonies both by Robert Schumann (with the later version of Schumann's Symphony No. 4) and Brahms along with chamber music, songs and instrumental music by Clara Schumann.

Friday, 20 January 2023

Out of the Shadows in Estonia: our programme of Robert Hugill's songs to be performed at the Glasperlenspiel Festival in Tartu in 2024

St John's Church, Tartu - home of the Glasperlenspiel Festival
St John's Church, Tartu
home of the Glasperlenspiel Festival
I am pleased to announce that Out of the Shadows will be presented in Estonia in 2024 at the  Glasperlenspiel Festival in Tartu. The evening of my songs including two new cantatas, performed by Ben Vonberg-Clark (tenor), James Atkinson (baritone) and Nigel Foster (piano), premieres at Hinde Street Methodist Church, London on 3 February 2023, and at the invitation of the festival's artistic director, Peeter Vähi, the programme will be presented in Tartu on 5 July 2024. Tartu is the European Capital of Culture 2024 and we are proud and privileged to be presenting this programme of my work (all Estonian premieres) at the festival.

Out of the Shadowsan evening of Robert Hugill's songs for LGBT History Month, features two cantatas, which receive their world premiere at our concert on 3 February 2023 alongside a programme of my songs creating something of a retrospective. The cantata Out of the Shadows takes us from the earliest tentative admissions of same-sex attraction, to cruising in a bath house in Imperial Russia to Walt Whitman's unashamed admission of his sexuality. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum moves between the certainty of the Latin creed, to explorations of cryogenics, the body-snatching of Burke and Hare and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, before resolving in the homoerotic pantheistic transcendentalism of Walt Whitman with its celebration of Death itself. 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 in Memorare.

The Glasperlenspiel Festival was founded in Tartu by composer Peeter Vähi and its name, which translates as 'The Glass Bead Game' comes from the novel by Herman Hesse. The festival, which is presented annually by Vähi's company Estonian Record Productions (ERP) is four days of classical and contemporary music presented in Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia and the home of the country's oldest university, the University of Tartu which was founded in 1632. It is also the birthplace of the Estonian Song Festivals, the first of which was held in Tartu in 1869 and they continue to be held every five years in Tallinn.

You can hear Out of the Shadows in London on 3 February 2023, full details from the EventBrite page.


Handel the European: two concerts showcasing the diversity & imagination of Handel's cantatas

Portrait miniature of Handel (c1710) by Christoph Platzer (Photo of a lost original, Handel-Haus, Halle)
Portrait miniature of Handel (c1710) by Christoph Platzer
(Photo of a lost original, Handel-Haus, Halle)
Handel: Sans y penser (Cantate Francaise) HWV 155, No se emendera jamas HWV 140, German Arias 202-208; Claire Ward, Maxim Del Mar, Miriam Nohl, Kiristiina Watt; City Music Foundation at the Great Hall, St Bartholomew's Hospital, 18 January 2023
Handel: Alpestre monte HWV81Un'alma innamorata HWV173Tra le fiamme HWV170; Carolyn Sampson, Finnish Baroque Orchestra; Wigmore Hall

Two concerts showcasing the more intimate beauties of Handel's cantatas, with texts setting Italian, French, Spanish and German. A lovely focus on an often ignored part of his imaginative output

Two concerts this week, showcased the range of Handel's writing for voice on an intimate scale. He wrote hundreds of small-scale cantatas, of which only a handful are well known, and though works in this style date largely from his Italian years, there are tantalising later chamber vocal works.

So, at the Great Hall of St Bartholomew's Hospital on Wednesday 18 January 2023, the City Music Foundation presented soprano Claire Ward with Maxim Del Mar (violin), Miriam Nohl (cello), Kristiina Watt (archlute & Baroque guitar) in a programme called Handel's Europe which included movements from Handel's French language cantata Sans y penser HWV 155, plus the cantata in Spanish, No se emendera jamas HWV 140 and a selection of six of the German Arias. Then on 19 January 2023, soprano Carolyn Sampson joined members of the Finnish Baroque Orchestra for a programme of Handel's Italian cantatas, Alpestre monte HWV81, Un'alma innamorata HWV173 and Tra le fiamme HWV170.

This was music written for an almost forgotten social ritual, the salon. It wasn't concert music at all, and it is significant that as Ellen T. Harris has pointed out (in her wonderful book on the cantatas Handel as Orpheus), once Handel stopped having patron and started working for himself, then his cantatas stop almost entirely. For their concert at St Bartholomew's, Claire Ward and friends performed with the audience in a semi-circle round them, creating a real intimate feel. There was no harpsichord, here the continuo was cello (Miriam Nohl) and baroque guitar or archlute (Kristiina Watt). 

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Jennifer Johnston and Joseph Middleton launch Leeds Lieder's Spring recital season

Leeds Lieder Spring 2023

Leeds Lieder begins 2023 with a programme of four Spring recitals. The first sees mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and festival director Joseph Middleton celebrating song of the 20th and 21st centuries by British and American composers at the Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall on Friday 10 February 2023 as part of the 2023 Contemporary Music Festival at the University of Leeds.

Johnston and Middleton's recital includes songs by Jonathan Dove and Benjamin Britten including Canticle I, Cheryl Frances Hoad's two Ophelia songs and Lady Macbeth, a scena by Joseph Horovitz who died last year. There are songs by Ned Rorem, who also died in 2022, and Samuel Barber, and the recital ends with Cheryl Frances-Hoad's One Life Stand, a song cycle setting words by Sophie Hannah that was written in response to Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben and which was premiered by Johnston and Middleton at Opera North in 2011.

The other Spring recitals feature soprano Miah Persson and Joseph Middleton in Grieg, Nystroem, Sibelius, and Strauss (15/2/2023), soprano Mary Bevan, tenor Nicky Spence and Joseph Middleton in Weill, Novello, Berg, Messager, Rorem, Lehar, Sullivan, Oscar Strauss, Satie, Gershwin, Berlin, Kern, Brecht (4/3/2023) and baritone Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin (20/4/2023).

The 2023 Leeds Lieder Festival will take place from Friday 9 to Saturday 17 June 2023.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

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