Saturday, 17 April 2021

When 2020 forced the cancellation of the first Riga Jurmala Academy in Latvia, it moved its programme of masterclasses on-line: I find out more from director Toms Ostrovskis

Toms Ostrovskis and student during Riga Jurmala Academy masterclass with Leif Ove Andsnes (Photo Reinis Oliņš)
Toms Ostrovskis and student during Riga Jurmala Academy masterclass with Leif Ove Andsnes (Photo Reinis Oliņš)

When the pandemic cancelled the 2020 edition of the Riga Jurmala Music Festival in Latvia, it would have seemed to be the end of its sister event, the Riga-Jurmala Academy,  academy's director Toms Ostrovskis and his team had other ideas.

The Riga Jurmala Academy is a programme of masterclasses organised under the auspices of the Riga Jurmala Music Festival in collaboration with the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, in Riga, Latvia. The festival made its auspicious debut in 2019, bringing leading symphony orchestras and conductors to Riga and Jurmala and presenting a programme of symphonic concerts, chamber music and solo recitals. Its 2020 programme included the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with their new artistic director Lahav Shani, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and its long-serving artistic director Yuri Temirkanov and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.  

Riga Jurmala Academy masterclass with Lionel Cottet (Photo Reinis Oliņš)
Riga Jurmala Academy masterclass with Lionel Cottet (Photo Reinis Oliņš)

The academy was to be a new initiative for the 2020 festival. In the event, the 2020 festival was cancelled and the academy had to quickly rethink its model and its plans, moving the programme on-line and transforming from a festival event to a year-round one. I recently chatted to the Toms about the challenges of running the academy under current restrictions, the technical solutions they have come up with and the way forward.

The idea for the academy came after the successful first festival, with the idea of running educational activities in parallel to the festival, taking advantage of the artists who were performing at the festival, artists of a high artistic level who do not often come to Latvia. This would provide for masterclasses, given by the distinguished artists, for emerging artists alongside the concerts, with the students also attending the concerts and receptions, thus able to meet the artists informally as well as in the more formal masterclass situation.

It seemed ideal, but when the second festival was cancelled they decided that the academy needed to come up with an alternative way of functioning during the crisis. The concept of doing masterclasses on-line was considered, but Toms and his team were dubious because of the technical limitations, as a lot of the on-line material available was not of great quality, and because the distinguished artists giving the masterclasses would need to get involved in the technicalities of streaming the masterclass. 

Friday, 16 April 2021

Oxford Philharmonic's Music & Maths: Baroque & Beyond

Marcus du Sautoy and the Oxford Philharmonic
Marcus du Sautoy and the Oxford Philharmonic

On Sunday 18 April 2021, the Oxford Philharmonic, conductor Marios Papadopoulos, will be presented an on-line concert of Baroque music recorded in the 17th century Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. But this will be an event with a different, rather than just performing the music the orchestra will be joined by Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, who will be delving into the relationship between the maths, science and music of the 17th century, and asking questions such as 'What is it that makes Stradivarius violins so special and unique?' and 'what does Newton’s Cradle have to do with Baroque music?'

The musical programme includes Bach's Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 and his Brandenburg concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047  plus music from Rameau's Les Boreades. The concert is part of a new on-line series that the orchestra has announced, which includes a family concert, two Haydn symphonies from his 'Sturm und Drang' period, and Nicola Benedetti and Lawrence Power in an all-Mozart programme including the Violin Concerto no. 5 and Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Full details from the orchestra's website.

Welsh National Opera is 75

Yesterday (15 April 2021) marked Welsh National Opera's 75th birthday. The company's first performance was on 5 April 1946 at Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff with a double bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci (Taking part in the performance was the tenor Robert Tear, who was a schoolboy at the time).

Merthyr-born musician Idloes Owen (1894-1954) initially had the idea to form a national opera company for Wales. Idloes Owen was a composer, conducter and singer, and considered to be one of the finest singing teachers in Wales (Sir Geraint Evans was one of his pupils). In 1943, he led a group of amateur singers from all walks of life including miners, teachers and doctors, to come together through their passion for music and singing. The first meeting and rehearsal of the Welsh National Opera Company took place in a chapel in Crwys Road, Cardiff. Idloes Owen conducted WNO’s first performances in 1946 and continued to be the Company’s musical director until his death in 1954.

Inevitably celebrations are somewhat more muted than planned, but WNO has commissioned a poem, Intermezzo from the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn. There are two versions of the poem, one in Welsh [YouTube] the other in English [YouTube], both have been recorded by a series of distinguished Welsh voices  including opera singer Sir Bryn Terfel, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, rugby legend Sir Gareth Edwards, harpist Catrin Finch, singer/songwriter Caryl Parry Jones, opera singer Rebecca Evans, Welsh folk singer Dafydd Iwan, Welsh actors Dame Siân Phillips, Mark Lewis Jones and Rakie Ayola. 

WNO Chorus and Orchestra releases a special newly recorded version of 'Easter Hymn' from Cavalleria rusticana [YouTube] takes a walk through history, from the Company’s humble origins in Llandaff, Cardiff to our current home at Wales Millennium Centre, conducted by James Southall with soprano soloist Camilla Roberts.

More information from the WNO website.

Youthful opportunities: musical activities for young people and more from Opera North, the Liverpool Phil and Welsh National Opera

Opera North Orchestra Academy (Photo Justin Slee)
Opera North Orchestra Academy (Photo Justin Slee)

Nowadays, community engagement for professional music ensembles (orchestras, opera companies, choirs, etc.) does not involve simply going into schools talking to and playing to children and coming away again. Many companies have long-term involvement in a myriad of youth projects, providing opportunities for youth music engagement which are often not available to young people in today's climate of poor music provision in state schools. Both Opera North, in Leeds, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic have recently announced opportunities for engagement at a musical level in a variety of projects, whilst Welsh National Opera's community engagement programme has recently been supported by a grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation.

In Leeds, Opera North is preparing to open its redevelopment project the £18 million Howard Opera Centre this Summer, which includes a new Education Studio which will be the home to several initiatives including projects with the Opera North Youth Chorus, the Opera North Children’s Chorus and Opera North Young Voices. Children from the age of 8 to 19 years can join the Opera North Youth Company; no prior knowledge of opera is required to join, simply a love of telling stories through music, a desire to develop skills in singing and stagecraft, and a passion for performance.

Opera North Children's Chorus perform The Spiders' Revenge (Photo Tom Arber)
Opera North Children's Chorus perform The Spiders' Revenge (Photo Tom Arber)

Intrumental opportunities include a Woodwind and Horn Academy and a Brass Academy at Yeadon Town Hall in Leeds, giving school age orchestral players the chance to learn from, and play with, members of the Orchestra of Opera North and Opera North education specialists. For young string players there is an immersive 4-day Strings Academy in the Howard Opera Centre while, for young musicians playing at grade 7 and above, the Opera North Summer Orchestra Academy will run in August. New this autumn is the Opera North Youth Orchestra which aims to help 16 to 21-year-old orchestral players transition from further education and regional youth orchestras into the professional world of music. Successful applicants will get the chance to be mentored by members of the Orchestra of Opera North and to work regularly in the Howard Opera Centre with professional conductors and soloists.  

Further information from the Opera North website.

Liverpool Philharmonic youth orchestras
Liverpool Philharmonic youth orchestra

In Liverpool, there are eight different ensembles that the Liverpool Philharmonic is recruiting for,  both choirs and orchestras, from the Resonate Youth Philharmonic (for children grade 2 and above) to Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (for ages 13 to 21 at grade 7 and above), from Liverpool Philharmonic Children’s Choir (for children in years 5 to 7) to Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir (for singers ages 18+ who can read music and sight-sing), and not forgetting Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Brass Band (for ages 13 to 21 at grade 7 and above).

And young instrumentalists are invited to “Come and Play” with Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra on Zoom Wednesday 21 April at 6pm to find out more about the orchestra, how you can join, meet current members, and make music together. Register here

They are also calling for composers, and there is the Rushworth Young Composers & Songwriters (for aspiring composers aged 14 to 18) and the Rushworth Composition Prize (for Northwest composers aged 18 to 30)

Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir
Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir

Further information on all the Liverpool Philharmonic's youth ensembles from their website.

Welsh National Opera (WNO) has an extensive community engagement programme including two youth opera companies, with regional groups for 6 to 18 year olds in South Wales, North Wales and Birmingham, and the Youth Opera Young Company which offers training and performance opportunities to young singers age 18 to 25, plus two Community Chorus programmes (one in Cardiff, one in Llandudno), and choirs for people with dementia and their carers and story-telling activities for refugees and asylum seekers. One such is WNO’s Cradle Choir based in Milford Haven since autumn 2019; working with Torch Theatre, Havenhurst Day Centre, Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services and Pembrokeshire County Council, the group initially met in person weekly, bringing more than 40 people to sing together and now meets online and it has also held dementia friendly training with local schoolchildren.

Welsh National Youth Opera Sing Club (Photo Kirsten McTernan)
Welsh National Youth Opera Sing Club (Photo Kirsten McTernan)

WNO has one of the highest levels of participation figures of opera companies in the UK. In 2019/20, pre COVID-19, more than 55,000 people took part in WNO engagement activities. And the teams have successfully maintained many programmes during lockdowns by moving them online.

Full details from WNO's website.

A name to watch: American counter-tenor Randall Scotting sings the Refugee in Jonathan Dove's Flight in Seattle (and on-line)

 

Jonathan Dove: Flight - Randall Scotting - Seattle Opera (Photo Philip Newton)
Jonathan Dove: Flight - Randall Scotting - Seattle Opera (Photo Philip Newton)

The young American counter-tenor Randall Scotting is very much a name to watch. When David McVicar's production of Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice debuted at Covent Garden in 2019 [see my review] the role of Apollo was shared between Tim Mead and Scotting (making his Covent Garden debut). 

There is a chance to hear Scotting in another 20th century opera later this month when he takes the role of the Refugee in Jonathan Dove's Flight in a production from Seattle Opera which will be available on-line from 23 to 25 April 2021. Rather appropriately the production, directed by Brian Staufenbiel and conducted by Viswa Subbaraman, will be filmed at Seattle Museum of Flight, the largest air and space museum in the world. The full cast for the production is Randall Scotting (Refugee), Sharleen Joynt (Controller), Joshua Kohl (Bill), Karen Vuong (Tina), Margaret Gawrysiak (Older Woman), Sarah Larsen (Stewardess), Joseph Lattanzi (Minskman), Karen Mushegain (Minskwoman) and Damien Geter (Immigration Officer).

Scotting will be back in London this year, but for recording sessions as he is recording a programme of Italian castrato arias with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment which will be issued on Signum Classics next year. Scotting has made something of a speciality of this repertoire as he was recently awarded a PhD from the Royal College of Music for his thesis, titled: Unknown Senesino: Francesco Bernardi’s Vocal Profile and Dramatic Portrayal, 1700-1740

 This Summer, Scotting will be returning to the Baroque for performances in the title role of Cavalli's Eliogabolo with San Francisco's West Edge Opera.

Further details of Flight from Seattle Opera,  and further details of Eliogabolo from West Edge Opera.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Now a well-established on-line concert series, Sands Films created The Music Room in their film studio as a response to 2020's lack of performances for artists

Music Antica Rotherhithe at Sands Films Music Room (taken from live-stream)
Music Antica Rotherhithe at Sands Films' The Music Room (taken from live-stream)


Sands Films' The Music Room has become a regular fixture in the internet provision of live-streamed performances which appeared in response to last year's crisis. At first sight, The Music Room seems to have sprung up from nowhere, yet it has its roots in an historic 18th century building in Rotherhithe which is home to a film studio with links to composers has diverse at Nino Rota and Jehan Alain.

Last year I was sent information about an on-line concert which the performers were hoping I would watch and write about (a not uncommon occurence). This was taking place at Sands Films' The Music Room and since then I have caught other concerts from the same venue (Musica Antica Rotherhithe were there in February 2021 and will be returning on Saturday, 17 April) without ever being able to say what the venue was, or where!

Sands Films is an independent film studio and international costumier operating in an 18th century listed building in Rotherhithe, and founded by Richard and Christine Goodwin (Christine Edzard) in 1975.

Music positively explodes from the disc: Australian group Ensemble Offspring's Offspring Bites 3

En Masse: Offspring Bites3 - Alex Pozniak, Holly Harrison, Thomas Meadowcroft; Ensemble Offspring

En Masse: Offspring Bites3
- Alex Pozniak, Holly Harrison, Thomas Meadowcroft; Ensemble Offspring

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A long established Sydney-based contemporary music ensemble with three terrific recent commissions from Australian composers

We can sometimes get a bit insular in our listening and exploring, but the internet can give us a window into lively performance traditions that we might otherwise be unaware of. Sydney-based new music group Ensemble Offspring, artistic director Claire Edwardes, has premiered over 300 works in the last 25 years and its Offspring Bites series celebrates works commissioned by the group. En Masse: Offspring Bites 3 is their third such disc. Written for Ensemble Offspring's core sextet of percussion, clarinet, flute, violin, cello and keyboard, the album features new work by three mid-career Australian composers, Alex Pozniak's En Masse, Holly Harrison's bend/boogie/break and Thomas Meadowcroft's Medieval Rococo.

First comes Alex Pozniak's En Masse for flute, clarinet, violin, cello percussion and piano, written in 2018. Pozniak studied at the University of Sydney and Sydney Conservatorium. En Masse is the sixth work he has written for Ensemble Offspring, following the trio Spike in 2015, solo works Surge for marimba, Mercurial for cello, Interventions and Crush for solo piano and Tower of Erosion for piano and percussion. En Masse is his response to a commission for a substantial piece for the core sextet of Ensemble Offspring. The title refers to the idea of the ensemble working together in a unified mass and the musical ideas explore notions of mass or heaviness, but it also stems from a reordering of the start of the word ‘ensemble’. The work is in three movements, each around ten minutes, loosely fast, slow, fast though the piece plays continuously.

Ensemble Offspring (Photo - Dale Harrison)
Ensemble Offspring (Photo - Dale Harrison)

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Richard Strauss satirising his publisher & exploring exoticism with vertiginously high vocals: Unerhört (Outrageous) from tenor Daniel Behle and pianist Oliver Schnyder

Unerhört - Richard Strauss; Daniel Behle, Oliver Schnyder; Prospero Classical

Unerhört
- Richard Strauss; Daniel Behle, Oliver Schnyder; Prospero Classical

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A recital which takes us down some rewarding byways in Richard Strauss' song output

This disc of songs by Richard Strauss from tenor Daniel Behle and pianist Oliver Schnyder on Prospero Classical comes with the name Unerhört (Outrageous) which is a description which hardly seems to need to apply to Strauss songs, but Behle and Schnyder have been looking beyond the well-known and have come up with a selection of lesser-known, unknown and yes, outrageous songs including the Gesänge des Orients and the highly satirical Krämerspiegel (Shopkeeper's Mirror), written as a result of Strauss' contractual problems with his publisher!

We begin with a selection of lesser-known songs, first two about Winter, both setting texts by Karl Henckell and coming from Strauss' Opus 48. Both might seem somewhat familiar, as Strauss would re-cycle the music in Arabella and Die Frau ohne Schatten! These songs introduce us to Behle's stylish seemingly effortless lyric tenor, with the gently intimate Winterweihe with Behle using a lovely mezza-voce, and Winterliebe which seems to explode out of the disc and reminds me of Strauss writing for Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Waldseligkeit is another quietly intimate song, hushed magic with a restless piano underneath.

Ryedale Festival launches its 40th birthday celebrations with on-line Spring festival

The Long Gallery, Castle Howard (Photo  Heikki Immonen)
The Long Gallery, Castle Howard
(Photo Heikki Immonen via Wikipedia)
The Ryedale Festival is 40 this year and there will be celebratory festival in the Summer (16 July-1 August 2021), but to get us in the mood there is an on-line Spring festival next month (2-8 May 2021). Seven filmed performances created in collaboration with Castle Howard, Yorkshire Arboretum and filmmaker Cain Scrimgeour, all available on RyeStream, the festival's streaming platform.

The main festival will feature  40 headline events in one-off, late-announced, open-ended, can-do bursts which allow it to remain responsive to the unique circumstances of 2021 and as creative and flexible as possible. 

In-person music-making returns in June when Nicola Benedetti opens her festival residency by joining Leonard Elschenbroich cello, Alexei Grynyuk piano at Pickering Parish Church on 4 June 2021 for Beethoven and Brahms.

The Spring festival launches with Michael Collins (clarinet) and Michael McHale (piano) in Beethoven's Spring Sonata and music by Weber and Poulenc, and then pianists Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy performi Schubert and Brahms' piano duets in the Long Gallery at Castle Howard. Other performers include the Maxwell Quartet in Haydn's Op.74 No. 1, Scottish folk music and Anna Meredith, the soprano duo Fair Oriana in a programme which mixes Renaissance, Baroque, folk and more, jazz group The Immy Curchill Trio, and mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and pianist Christopher Glynn (artistic director of the festival) will be giving a Spring-inspired programme with music by Schumann, Brahms, Copland and Finzi, plus music from the Isolation Songbook [see my review]. The festival ends with the London Mozart Players and Ruth Rogers in Grieg, RVW and Vivaldi.

Other venues being used during the festival include the Great Hall at Castle Howard, St Mary’s Church, Ebberston, and Helmsley Arts Centre. Full details from the festival website.



Tuesday, 13 April 2021

James Blades' Percussion Instruments and their History

James Blades' Percussion Instruments and their History
Legendary percussionist James Blades' Percussion Instruments and their History was first published in 1971 (with an introduction from Benjamin Britten with whom Blades had a long association) and last updated in 2005. The book has remained the standard reference work on the subject. Now it is being re-issued in expanded form (over 600 pages) by Kahn & Averill.

The expanded edition includes a chapter on the rise of the solo percussionist and written by one of Blades’ former pupils, Dame Evelyn Glennie, who also contributes a new Foreword, while recent developments in orchestral percussion are covered by Neil Percy, Head of Timpani and Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music and Principal Percussionist of the London Symphony Orchestra.

As a performer James Blades (1901-1999) played with the Melos Ensemble and the English Chamber Orchestra, and as professor of percussion at the Royal Academy of Music he enthused a whole generation, and his pupils ranged from Dame Evelyn Glennie and Sir Simon Rattle to a number of rock drummers.

Further information from the Kahn & Averill website.


Winchester Chamber Music Festival - live and on-line

St Paul's Church, Winchester
St Paul's Church, Winchester
Like many smaller festivals this year, the Winchester Chamber Music Festival is having to be creative. The festival will go ahead live in Winchester from 4 to 6 June 2021 and these performances will be filmed and will then go on-line from 18 to 20 June 2021 thus presenting two alternatives for sampling the delights on offer.

The artistic director of the festival is Kate Gould, the cellist with the London Bridge Trio (David Adams, Kate Gould, Daniel Tong) and the trio is resident at the festival with guests Lucy Gould violin, Gary Pomeroy viola,  Robert Plane clarinet and Tim Horton piano. This group of artists will be presenting a programme which moves from Beethoven's String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 Harp, Dvořák's String Quartet in F, Op. 96 American to Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, to Fauré's Piano Trio and Weber's Piano Quartet to Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, and the programme will also include Joe Cutler's Slippery Music.   

The live concerts will take place at St Paul's Church, Winchester, and the videos of the live concerts will be interspersed with video footage from the rehearsals, a talk by Daniel Tong and the Open Rehearsal.

Full details from the Winchester Chamber Music Festival website.

Manchester Song Festival: Kathryn Rudge, Kathrine Broderick, and RNCM Songsters at Stoller Hall

Manchester Song Festival - Ruth Gibson, Kathryn Stott, Katherine Broderick (image taken from live stream)
Manchester Song Festival - Ruth Gibson, Kathryn Stott, Katherine Broderick (image taken from live stream)

Manchester Song Festival; Kathryn Rudge, Jonathan Fisher, RNCM Songsters, Katherine Broderick, Kathryn Stott, Ruth Gibson; Stoller Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 March 2021
From English song to Brahms, Bridge and Strauss, with a group of young singers exploring lesser known repertoire, an all-day on-line celebration of song at Stoller Hall

The Manchester Song Festival, artistic director Marcus Farnsworth, returned on 27 March 2021 with full day of of event streamed live from Stoller Hall in Manchester (supported by the Haworth Charitable Trust). The day was bookended by recitals with proceedings opening with Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano) and Jonathan Fisher (piano) in English song and ending with Katherine Broderick (soprano), Kathryn Stott (piano) and Ruth  Gibson (viola) in Brahms, Bridge and Richard Strauss. In between there was a programme from the RNCM Songsters, a masterclass from Kathryn Rudge with young singers from Chetham's School and an early evening concert from jazz duo, Lauren Kinsella (vocals) and Kit Downes (piano) performing music by American jazz drummer, percussionist, and composer Paul Motian (1931-2011).

Whilst the event was live-streamed, there was also a small audience of pupils from Chetham's School (of which the hall is part), which made the concerts feel that bit more lived in.

Manchester Song Festival - Jonathan Fisher, Kathryn Rudge (image taken from live stream)
Manchester Song Festival - Jonathan Fisher, Kathryn Rudge (image taken from live stream)

We began with Kathryn Rudge and Jonathan Fisher (who is on the staff at the RNCM) in 20th century English song. Rudge began with a classic, William Denis Browne's To Gratiana Dancing and Singing, in performance which moved from thoughtful to passionate. Rudge was in lovely voice, singing with rich, vibrant tone and really making all the songs in her programme count. Her second item was Roger Quilter's Seven Elizabethan Lyrics from 1908, settings of Elizabethan poets (Ben Johnson, Thomas Campion and five anonymous). There was a grave beauty and dignified melancholy about many of these songs, beautifully crafted and superbly put over by Rudge and Fisher. Rudge's diction meant we did not need a printed text, and she made each word expressive. Herbert Howells' King David returned us to more familiar territory with elegance moving to real passion (and some great nightingale from Fisher).

Monday, 12 April 2021

Towards Perfection: the idea of an ideal version of an opera has not always played out in history, with composers being surprisingly willing to rewrite works to suit circumstances

Stuart Laing, Kristy Swift & ensemble - Beethoven's Leonore at the Buxton Festival, 2016 (photo Robert Workman)
Stuart Laing, Kristy Swift & ensemble - Beethoven's 1804 Leonore at the Buxton Festival, 2016 (photo Robert Workman)

Whilst it might seem a piece of 19th century Romanticism, the ideal of a composer straining to create the perfect version of an opera is one which still informs the way we think of many of the operas in the historical canon. But history shows that it was rarely thus, and operas were rarely final and even the great composers often showed a surprising willingness to tinker with works and adjust them.

On 23 May 1814, Beethoven premiered the opera we have come to know as Fidelio. It wasn't the work's first outing, originally the work premiered in 1804 with a revised version appearing in 1805. What was performed in 1814 was a further radical revision. In making the changes, Beethoven wasn't responding to changes of cast (all three versions featured soprano Anna Milder-Hauptman in the leading role of Leonore), nor radical changes of performance location, all three took place in commercial theatres in Vienna. Instead, Beethoven was working towards perfecting Fidelio as a work of art, though as his own musical personality had developed significantly in the years from 1805 to 1814, this meant that the final version of Fidelio had significantly different aims to the work which premiered in 1804 and which we now know as Leonore.

It is with Fidelio that the idea of opera as a perfect work of art would seem to come into being, a myth that would be continued by Richard Wagner. Not only do all of Wagner's mature operas exist in single, final versions but what constitutes mature Wagner was (and is) rigorously curated by the Bayreuth Festival so that his earliest three works are not included in the canon. In an ideal world Wagner would have kept The Ring and Parsifal as being performed only at Bayreuth but financial pressures forced him to sell the Ring copyrights. This is the creation of opera as a perfect work of art, controlled by the composer (and librettist); it assumes that an opera only exists in a single version and that is the one we should focus on.

Of course, it wasn't always thus and in fact is hardly ever thus, though the creation of traditional versions of some operas has led us to prize some music over other in a way which would have puzzled the works' creators.

Quite how they did it: Tête à Tête's Lessons From Live Opera In 2020: The Movie

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at Cockpit Theatre in 2020, with a real live audience (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at Cockpit Theatre in 2020, with a real live audience (Photo Claire Shovelton)

During 2020, Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival was one of the first companies to mount an in-door performance again, and between July and September 2020 the company even managed to present a complete festival of new opera, mixing live audience with those viewing via the internet.

Now the company has created a video and other assets which explore what has been learned from the experience. Under the title Lessons From Live Opera In 2020: The Movie there is plenty of informative material all presented with the company's light touch. With the situation regarding live performance still not entirely settled, there is plenty of useful stuff here for smaller opera companies, but frankly from an opera consumer's point of view it makes fascinating reading too, illuminating quite how they did it.

And the video boils the process down to a series of top tips

Lesson 1: Keep your planning flexible
Lesson 2: Prototype
Lesson 3: Have a clear aim
Lesson 4: Develop a strong network
Lesson 5: Keep Communicating all the way
Lesson 6: Hold your production lightly
Lesson 7: Carefully consider and rehearse the flow of people
Lesson 8: Work with your artists to keep Covid compliant
Lesson 9 Slow down in the theatre

You can learn more from the video and other assets information from the company's website.

Opera North announces its journey back from Lockdown with Beethoven, Sondheim and Rap

Rachel Nicholls as Leonore in Opera North’s Autumn 2020 production of Beethoven’s Fidelio (Photo Richard H Smith)
Rachel Nicholls as Leonore in Opera North’s Autumn 2020
production of Beethoven’s Fidelio (Photo Richard H Smith)
Opera North has announced its first live performances since 2020 with a programme which moves from Beethoven to Sondheim to Rap. 

A concert staging of Beethoven's Fidelio was planned for Autumn 2020 but in the end took place behind closed doors and was live streamed. Now conducted by Paul Daniel, Matthew Eberhardt's staging of Fidelio will received four performances, at Leeds Town Hall, at the Lowry in Salford Quays and at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham in June 2020 with Rachel Nicholls as Leonore, Toby Spence as Florestan, Robert Hayward as Don Pizarro, Brindley Sherratt as Rocco, Fflur Wyn as Marzelline and Oliver Johnston as Jaquino.

Also at Salford Quays, Paul Daniel will be conducting an opera gala with Elin Pritchard (soprano), and Benson Wilson (baritone).

The filmed performance of Fidelio will be returning to Opera North’s ONDemand platform, and a new series of weekly livestreamed chamber concerts, The Whitehall Road Session will be similarly available. These chamber concerts, from the company's Whitehall Road rehearsal studio will include Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, and Syrinx for solo flute alongside Indian classical music played by Vijay Venkat on bansuri (Indian flute), Schubert's Octet, and music by Louise Farrenc and Lili Boulanger.

Rapper and playwright Testament in Orpheus in the Record Shop, an Opera North and Leeds Playhouse commission for BBC Lights Up, Spring 2021
Rapper and playwright Testament in Orpheus in the Record Shop
an Opera North and Leeds Playhouse commission for BBC Lights Up, Spring 2021

The production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music planned for 2020 is also scheduled for this Summer with dates to be announced shortly. A co-production with the Leeds Playhouse, A Little Night Music will be directed by Leeds Playhouse's James Brining, conducted by James Holmes (Opera North's former head of music) with a cast including Dame Josephine Barstow, Stephanie Corley and Quirijn de Lang.

The company's pop-up style Whistle Stop Opera returns this Spring with a newly devised version of Mozart's The Magic Flute, written and directed by John Savournin, for a small cast and accordion. Touring to indoor and outdoor small-scale venues across the North from June, performances will take place in schools, community spaces, and theatres in towns and rural touring networks across the region. 

The company has recorded a performance of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 1 May, with Laurence Cummings conducting and cast including Paula Murrihy as Orfeo, Fflur Wyn as Euridice and Daisy Brown as Amore. An accompanying film following the recording process in real time will be available to stream on Opera North’s ONDemand player. And still in an Orpheus kind of mood, Orpheus in the Record Shop, Opera North and Leeds Playhouse’s co-production will be broadcast on BBC Four as part of #BBCLightsUp. Inspired by the Ancient Greek myth, rapper and playwright Testament fuses spoken word and beatboxing with a cinematic score performed by members of the orchestra and chorus of Opera North, filling Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre with Orpheus’s dreams, his reminiscences and his struggle for redemption.

We Will Not Be Muted: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's Tectonics goes on-line

San Andreas transform fault on the Carrizo Plain
San Andreas transform fault on the Carrizo Plain

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s annual festival of new and experimental music returns next month (8 & 9 May 2021) with a line-up featuring many of the artists scheduled for 2020. Tectonics Glasgow once again sees artists come together to blur musical boundaries and question what music can be. This eighth incarnation of the festival will be made up of specially-recorded audio and video performances streamed on the orchestra's website, but each day will also end with live broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds from Glasgow’s City Halls, from 10pm to 12 midnight.

The festival is curated by Ilan Volkov (BBC SSO Principal Guest Conductor) and Alasdair Campbell (founder of the Counterflows festival) and will include the world premieres of a new BBC Commission by Michael Parsons and a new work for the festival by Scott McLaughlin, along with works by Egidija Medekšaitė, Tania León, Arnulf Herrmann and Graciela Paraskevaidis. The orchestra will also record works by Cat Hope and Marc Yeats, while violin virtuoso Ilya Gringolts premieres works for solo violin by Yu Kuwabara and Sky Macklay.  

There will be recorded performances from US composer and performer Zachary James Watkins, pianist Angelica Sanchez, brass trio Zinc & Copper with Ellen Arkbro, and Scotland’s inclusive new music ensemble Sonic Bothy, plus a great deal else besides.

It is an intriguing mix, with plenty of names that do not crop up regularly and a wide spectrum in terms of both style, nationality and age. Should be a great couple of days. More information from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's website.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

A Life On-Line: Bach from Leamington Spa, Australia, Perth and Oxford, plus Coleridge-Taylor from London

Bach: Christ lag in Todesbanden - Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks (photo taken from live stream)
Bach: Christ lag in Todesbanden - Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks (photo taken from live stream)

Bach was very much a theme of the week, with an early Easter cantata, some bracing Australian arrangements and an exploration of the Mass in B minor which mixed live and on-line in an innovative way, and not to forget Bach's older cousin Johann Christoph. But there were other explorations from Johann Schop to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to a young contemporary composer from the North East.

Our week began with a continuation of the Easter mood, with Armonico Consort's film of Bach's Easter cantata, Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Go, not knowing where: I chat to pianist Elan Sicroff about Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann and the Thomas de Hartmann project

Elan Sicroff
Elan Sicroff

This month, April 2021, Nimbus Alliance is releasing five discs devoted to the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956). All the recordings feature the American pianist Elan Sicroff and are the fruit of The Thomas de Hartmann Project of which Elan Sicroff is a leading figure. If the name of Thomas de Hartmann is known at all, it is likely to be in connection with the Georgian mystic and philosopher George Gurdjieff (1877-1949) with whom De Hartmann had a significant collaboration. But De Hartmann's music encompasses far more than this, and the Thomas de Hartmann Project (of which Robert Fripp is executive director) is specifically aimed at widening the appreciation of the significant amount of music by Thomas de Hartmann which was not written in collaboration with Gurdjieff.

Thomas de Hartmann in the 1950s
Thomas de Hartmann in the 1950s

Elan is a classically trained pianist originally with a repertoire that emphasised the continuum of composers from Bach to Brahms. He admits that it was a long process for him to become familiar with De Hartmann's music and to be convinced of its value as initially he thought, as many do, that a composer's music must be unknown for a good reason. One significant moment in his development Elan cites as a performance of Mozart's Requiem in which he took part (as a singer) whilst he was still at Oberlin College. The performance was a direct result of the Kent State Massacre of 1970, and it showed Elan how music could convey extra-musical experiences.

A few years later he came across Thomas de Hartmann's music as a result of his attending the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherborne in Gloucestershire which was run by John Godolphin Bennett (1897-1974) who was a leading exponent of the teachings of Gurdjieff. Elan would attend the academy as a student and stay on as director of music. Here he was exposed to the music De Hartmann wrote in collaboration with Gurdjieff, consisting of Eastern music arranged for piano. Elan found this repertoire interesting, but it did not supplant the 19th century classics in his affections. 

J.G. Bennett got in touch with De Hartmann's widow, Olga de Hartmann (1885-1979) who sent some of the composer's late pieces. These were rather dissonant, and somewhat outside of Elan's experience. But Elan gradually began to work with De Hartmann's music, giving a concert in 1975 at which he finally met Olga de Hartmann. It was the discovery of De Hartmann's Cello Sonata (1941) and Violin Sonata (1936) which were a turning point for Elan. The pieces were just gorgeous, and he found it hard to believe that there was an unknown composer of such value out there. And when he played these works in concerts, the reaction from the audience was good too.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Breaking the silence: Oxford Bach Soloists and Positive Note present a weekly series of films of Bach's Mass in B minor

Having given us Bach's St John Passion recorded in isolation, tenor Daniel Norman's Positive Note film production company is returning with Bach's Mass in B Minor but this will be something more than a performance of Bach's masterpiece. In four weekly episodes (starting at 6pm tonight, 9 April 2021) the films are intended to music, liturgy and buildings back life during Eastertide.

Filmed at Oxford Oratory, Westminster Cathedral and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, the films will feature featuring singers from Oxford Bach Soloists and The Choir of the Oxford Oratory, with Oxford Bach Soloists (on period instruments) conducted by Tom Hammond-Davies. There will be guest appearances (recorded from their own homes) by the Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, The Choir of the London Oratory, The Gesualdo Six, and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir, with soloists Sophie Bevan (soprano), Mary Bevan (soprano), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo soprano), William Purefoy (counter tenor), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Daniel Norman (tenor), Brindley Sherratt (bass), Stephan Loges (bass baritone).

Each episode is themed around movements of the mass, but each ends with a series of interviews as well, with performers, clergy, and more including two homeless artists, David Tovey and Mitchel Ceney, whose collaborative work emerges during the films.

Further information from Positive Note films.

A journey to Anatolia through the ears of The Turkish Five, pioneers of western classical music in Turkey

To Anatolia - Cemal Reşit Rey, Ferid Alnar, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazım Akses; Beyza Yazgan; Bridge Records

To Anatolia
- Cemal Reşit Rey, Ferid Alnar, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazım Akses; Beyza Yazgan; Bridge Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Music from The Turkish Five, composers who combined Western European training with Turkish traditional music in this fascinating piano evocation of the Anatolian peninsula

This album on Bridge Records from Turkish pianist Beyza Yazgan, currently resident in the USA, is entitled To Anatolia: Selections from The Turkish Five and consists of a collection of 26 short piano movements by five Turkish composers, Cemal Reşit Rey (1904-1985), Ferid Alnar (1906-1978), Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), and Necil Kazım Akses (1908-1999).

These five composers arose out of the initiative of Kemal Atatürk (the first President of the Republic of Turkey established in 1923) as part of his wider movement to bring contemporary Western European arts to Turkey (composer Paul Hindemith was involved with starting the Istanbul Conservatoire and other projects in the 1930s). Atatürk 's intention was to embrace contemporary European methods and combine them with Turkish traditional music (which under the Ottomans had been largely monophonic or heterophonic). All five of the composers studied abroad, Saygun and Erkin in Paris, Rey in Paris and Geneva, and Alnar and Akses in Vienna. And all returned to Turkey, blending Western compositional techniques with the modes, rhythms and melodies of Turkey.

Music for self-isolation

Pianist Lisa Tahara recorded in the empty auditorium of Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, performing music from Frank Horvat's Music for Self-Isolation. Horvat is associate composer at the Canadian Music Centre and when the world shut down in early 2020, Horvat wanted to raise spirits and create music for those forced into self-isolation. The result was 31 short solo and duo works for a variety of instruments and voice written in six weeks. The music clearly struck a chord and musicians from all over the world posted their performances (see Horvat's website).

Now, a new recording features the pieces performed by some of Canada’s leading soloists and members of the Vancouver Symphony, Toronto Symphony, and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestras and is due to be issued today. Full details from Horvat's website.

The Singing Strad: celebrating Julian Lloyd Webber's 70th birthday

Julian Lloyd Webber - The Singing Strad
Julian Lloyd Webber is 70 next week, and to mark the occasion Decca Classics is issuing a celebratory three-disc set, The Singing Strad of Julian's recordings spanning over 20 years of his career, all selected by the cellist himself. This disc includes concertos by Elgar (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Yehudi Menuhin) and Saint-Saens (with the English Chamber Orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier), the original version of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations (with Maxim Shostakovich), Shostakovich's Cello Sonata with John McCabe, a special recording of his brother's Pie Jesu along with Julian's own tribute to Jacqueline Du Pré.

All the recordings were made on the Barjansky Stradivarius cello which Lloyd Webber played for more than 30 years. The Barjansky is named after Russian cellist Alexandre Barjansky (1883-1946), who played the instrument during the first half of the 20th century. [Barjansky was the dedicatee of Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo which he performed on this instrument,  and Barjansky also premiered the Delius Concerto on the instrument in Vienna in January 1923.]

In addition to his playing, Julian has also been heavily involved in music education. He formed the Music Education Consortium with James Galway and Evelyn Glennie in 2003 and as a result of successful lobbying by the Consortium, in 2007, the UK government announced an infusion of £332 million for music education. He became chairman of the In Harmony programme which is based on the Venezuelan social programme El Sistema, and went on to chair Sistema England. He was principal of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire from 2015 to 2020, overseeing the move to the Birmingham City University City Centre Campus and the merger of the Conservatoire with the Birmingham School of Acting, and in September 2017 the Conservatoire was granted Royal status by Queen Elizabeth II. Julian was appointed Emeritus Professor of Performing Arts by Birmingham City University in 2020.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Charmes: an alternative century of song from Olena Tokar and Igor Gryshyn with music by Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Vitezslava Kapralova

Charmes - Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Vitezslava Kapralova; Olena Tokar, Igor Gryshyn; Orchid Classics

Charmes
- Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Vitezslava Kapralova; Olena Tokar, Igor Gryshyn; Orchid Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 April 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Songs by four women composers from the former BBC New Generation Artist

The Ukrainian soprano Olena Tokar is likely to be somewhat familiar to British listeners as she was a finalist at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, joined the BBC New Generation Artist scheme from 2013 to 2015, and sang the role of Juliette in Grange Park Opera's 2018 production of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. She is currently a member of Oper Leipzig. Now Olena Tokar and pianist Igor Gryshyn have released a recital disc on Orchid Classics. Entitled Charmes, the disc is a selection of songs by four female composers, Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Vitezslava Kapralova.

The recital thus provides us with a survey of a century of song from around 1840 to 1940, which moves in parallel with the standard narrative, and of course with all four composers there is the danger of seeing them in terms of the men in their lives rather than from their own point of view. This is particular true of Alma Mahler-Werfel and Clara Schumann, both of whom were married to composers. Perhaps more to the point, both suffered from the fact that for a 19th or early 20th century woman, composing was seen as being incompatible with married life. For all Robert Schumann's ostensible support, Clara had to fit composition in between the rest of a very busy life, whilst Alma was positively dissuaded (even forbidden at one point) by her husband, Gustav Mahler and she does not seem to have returned to composition after Gustav's death.

Projecting young people's vision of the future through music and dance - Learning@TheGrange collaborates with the World Wildlife Fund

This year from April to June, the Grange Festival's education team, Learning@TheGrange is collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on a project with over 200 young people (age 7 to 23) from schools and organisations across Hampshire which will result in films projecting the young people's vision of the future at several international conferences..

The project kicks off with presentations from WWF to the young people highlighting the uniqueness of different global habitats and providing scientific evidence.

Then, supported by Learning@TheGrange, the students will respond to the issues and challenges identified by writing text, composing music and choreographing dance to create an original piece which represents their vision of the future. The outcome will be a collection of short films representing the voice of young people and which imaginatively illustrate the kind of future they want.  Throughout 2021, the ‘Super year of Nature‘, the films will be shown at several international climate change conferences.

In addition to this, instrumentalists from Hampshire County Youth Orchestra will compose an orchestral piece in response to their chosen habitat under the direction of leading British composer Jonathan Dove, and the finished piece will be choreographed by Wessex Dance who will respond to both the music and the subject matter.

Learning@TheGrange - Future Visions from The Grange Festival on Vimeo.

“I beg of you to keep the matter of my deafness a profound secret to be confided to nobody, no matter whom…" - Ludwig van Beethoven

send back the echo was commissioned from composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman by United String of Europe, director Julian Azkoul, and due for performance in June 2020. When this was cancelled, Jasmin suggested to the ensemble that they turn the piece into a film.

The result is film inspired by Beethoven's struggles with deafness. The composer's letters and memoirs are interpreted and performed in British Sign Language by deaf actor Vilma Jackson, accompanied by Jasmin Kent Rodgman's music performed by United Strings of Europe.

Further information from the project website.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square to merge

Southbank Sinfonia at St John's Smith Square (Photo Teralon)

In the light the present challenges for arts organisations, changes and re-structuring are unsurprising and news has just been released about an interesting merger with to organisations seeing greater synergy together. Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square will be merging to create a new organisation. 

The sinfonia, which offers an annual training programme for young orchestral players, has long been seeking a permanent home (it currently uses space at St John's Waterloo), and the new move will see the sinfonia based at the concert hall. The result will effectively by a concert hall with resident orchestra and training programme and it will be interesting to see how the new organisaation develops. Currently plans are for the new organisation to deliver both an annual programme of orchestral training and development, as well as the well-established programme of regular festivals (eg. Christmas Festival, Holy Week Festival & London Festival of Baroque Music) concerts and events from professional, community and education partners.

The new organisation, currently called Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Smith Square (but expect that mouthful to change!) will have Simon Over (Music Director, Southbank Sinfonia) and Richard Heason (Director, St John’s Smith Square) as co-directors whilst things will be launched with a free live-streamed concert on Thursday 15 April - the first in a new series - and it is anticipated that the merger will be fully effected by the summer of 2021.

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

60th birthday celebration: Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen's works for recorder player Michala Petri survyed in this engaging and imaginative disc.

Territorial Songs: works for recorder by Sunleif Rasmussen; Michala Petri, Esbjerg Ensemble, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Layton, Clemens Schuldt, Henrik Vagn Christensen; OUR Recordings

Territorial Songs
: works for recorder by Sunleif Rasmussen; Michala Petri, Esbjerg Ensemble, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Layton, Clemens Schuldt, Henrik Vagn Christensen; OUR Recordings

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
In celebration of the Faroese composer's 60th birthday, OUR Recordings assembles a disc of his complete recorder music in a terrific survey showcasing Rasmussen's imaginative range.

The Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen was 60 last month, and by way of celebration comes this new disc from OUR Recordings, Territorial Songs, featuring Sunleif Rasmussen's works for recorder performed by Michala Petri (for whom the pieces were written) with the Esbjerg Ensemble, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, conductor Stephen Layton, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, conductor Clemens Schuldt, and Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Henrik Vagn Christensen.

Born on the Faroese island of Sandøy, Rasmussen initially studied in Norway, and at the Royal Danish Academy of Music where he studied composition with Ib Nørholm and electronic music with Ivar Frounberg. He is working on a monumental cycle of symphonies inspired by the elements, Water, Earth, Wind and Fire. Two have been completed, the first Oceanic Days won the  Nordic Council Music Prize in 2002, and the second, The Earth Anew received the Danish 'Carl Prisen Awards' for Classic Composer - Large Ensemble in 2016 and the Faroese Music Award for Best Composition in 2017.

The disc features five works for recording written over the period 2009 to 2014, and all for the recorder player Michala Petri.

Turtle Opera: music and drama for children on the autism spectrum

Turtle Opera: music and drama for children on the autism spectrum

Turtle Opera, a music and drama creative project for children on the autism spectrum, is holding a free workshop series from April to June 2021. The Saturday workshops will initially be held on Zoom, and then move to Ogston Music School – St Edward’s School, Oxford, and they will allow the children to create their own group performance of music and story.

The workshops are support participants to reduce social isolation, improve communication skills, increase confidence and self-esteem, as well as to enjoy the creative process. By taking part in the Turtle Opera activities, the children will gain a sense of achievement through seeing their work valued publicly with a live group performance for friends and family.

Participants aged 12-16 explore a variety of creative disciplines, working with a professional composer and director, and  supported by a project coordinator from Turtle Key Arts and a pastoral leader from Autism Family Support Oxfordshire, and the project is also supported by students from The Faculty of Music, University of Oxford, enhancing the professional development of the students.

Turtle Opera Oxford 2021 is a Turtle Key Arts partnership with English Touring Opera, in collaboration with The Faculty of Music, Oxford University (Music in the Community course), Autism Family Support Oxfordshire and St Edward’s School, Oxford. Turtle Key Arts is a UK registered charity that provides access to the arts to disabled, disadvantaged and socially excluded people, and those that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity.

Further information from the Turtle Key Arts website.


An audio-visual event combining 'Messiah' with images from the Saint John's Bible

HAndel: Messiah - Academy of St Martin in the Fields with projections by Nina Dunn Studio (Photo David Levene)
Handel: Messiah - Academy of St Martin in the Fields with projections by Nina Dunn Studio (Photo David Levene)

In 1998, Saint John's Abbey and University in Minnesota, USA commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible (completed in 2011), which you can explore at a website devoted to the Saint John's Bible. Now Jackson's illustrations have formed the basis for visuals created by projection artist Nina Dunn and her team, which will be projected onto the East Window of the church of St Martin in the Fields during a performance of Handel's Messiah which takes place on Thursday 8 April 2021.

This audio-visual event is part of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields' on-line concert series. Handel's oratorio (in shortened form) will be performed by the academy with soloists Carolyn Sampson (soprano), James Way (tenor), second prize in the 62nd Kathleen Ferrier Award, and Benson Wilson (baritone), winner of the 64th Kathleen Ferrier Award, with St Martin's Voices conducted by Andrew Earis.

Full details from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields website.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

60 Artists, 28 Nationalities, 24 Cities - a new on-line festival

nexTus festival

Starting on 17 April, a new festival nexTus will be presenting a series of performances on-line, hosting over 60 artists across the world, from 28 different countries. There will be 16 hours of concerts, plus discussions and talks spread across four consecutive weekends. Each weekend is themed, the first one is Tango and Tradition, the second The Sands of Time, the third Together Alone and the last nexTus Legacy.

The festival is designed as a fully interactive feast in which audiences can discuss the performances over a glass of wine every evening and take part in informative talks on topics such as the overlooked role of female composers and green living. (in interactive zoom meetings).

Perhaps, most importantly the entire festival has been designed, produced and marketed by the performers themselves (you can read more about them at the website), helping them to learn crucial self-starter skills for what will be a radically altered music scene once the restrictions begin to be eased back. The event is the brainchild of performers participating in the Vienna-based (Be Your Own Manager) Academy founded by executive coach and leadership innovator Bernhard Kerres, and will be hosted on the BYOM platform.

Further details from the BYOM website.

Music of sundrie sorts, and to content divers humours: Byrd's 1588 'Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie' in its first complete recording

William Byrd Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie ; Grace Davidson, Martha McLorinan, Nicholas Todd, Alamire, David Skinner; INVENTA

William Byrd Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie ; Grace Davidson, Martha McLorinan, Nicholas Todd, Alamire, Fretwork, David Skinner; INVENTA

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Byrd's 1588 publication consort and vocal music represents the diversity of the composer's talent in this, the first complete recording of the set

In the late 1580s and early 1590s, William Byrd published four collections of his music which between them demonstrate his range. The two volumes of Cantiones Sacrae (from 1589 and 1591) consist of 37 Latin motets, many complex and large scale and setting texts which would speak particularly to persecuted Catholics and being largely non-liturgical may have been seen by cultured Protestants as a form of vocal chamber music. In parallel there were two collections of English consort songs and madrigals, Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie (1588) and Songs of Sundrie Natures (1589), the first contains consort songs setting a variety of texts which can be performed either by voice and instruments, all voices or all instruments, whilst the second has music in in three, four, five and six parts, in diverse styles. Both these clearly aimed at Elizabethan households whether Protestant or Catholic. And Byrd's intention can be divined in words that he wrote in the 1588 publication 'Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing'.

Alamire, director David Skinner, with Grace Davidson (soprano), Martha McLorinan (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Todd (tenor) and the viol consort Fretwork have recorded the complete 1588 Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie for Inventa records, the first time the entire collection has been recorded.

Byrd's publication consists of 35 songs, divided into sections, Psalms (setting metrical psalms), Sonnets and pastorals, Songs of sadness and piety and Funeral Song of Sir Philip Sidney. They were probably all written as consort songs, a genre which involved a solo voice (often a high voice) and four viols. It was a highly popular form in Elizabethan England, but clearly Byrd decided to try to extend his market and in the publication the instrumental parts are also texted and the rubric makes it clear that you can perform the songs as consort songs, all sung or all instruments. One of Byrd's other projects in the 1580s was the publication of Musica Transalpina, a collection of Italian madrigals with new English texts, so clearly the idea of the unaccompanied vocal music was at the forefront of his mind.

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