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21 Aug  

The Manchester-based ensemble Psappha moves back to its home at Hallé St. Peter's, Ancoats in November after the venue’s much anticipated renovation.


Brand new music is at the heart of Psappha’s artistic offering, and this is reflected in the 2019-20 season. Over six concerts the ensemble will perform nine world premieres:


–Mark-Anthony Turnage Black Milk

–Nina Danon Mi Hijo, Mi Avuela 

–Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade Three études for piano and flower pots

–George Stevenson New work

–Alissa Firsova Songs of the World

–Nate Chivers New work 

–Athanasia Kontou New work 

–Zakiya Leeming New work 

–Tywi Roberts New work

Psappha’s concert programme and pre-concert events are designed to open up the experience of contemporary music to a wide audience.


The ensemble will work with Professor Douglas Jarman (author of 'The Music of Alban Berg') to create films which will be screened before each concert, revealing more of the context, relevance and history around the featured pieces. There will also be a chance to hear directly from many of the composers as they talk about the inspiration behind their work.


For the performance on 6 February 2020, Amaradaya (ordained member of the Triratna Buddhist Order) will lead a session of mindfulness meditation to set the tone ahead of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s hypnotic 'In the Light of Air.'


Psappha is currently based at St Michael's, but will move back to Hallé St. Peter's on 28 November after its anticipated renovation. Both venues are in Ancoats, an inner-city area of Manchester that was once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Psappha shares the spaces with The Hallé


Continuing the Composing for... talent development programme for emerging composers, this year’s selected composers will write for: sitar with Jasdeep Singh Degun; accordion with Miloš Mihajlović; and for cello and piano with core Psappha ensemble members Jennifer Langridge and Benjamin Powell. They will be offered expert support and professional guidance over an extended period to create new works that will be filmed and considered for a future Psappha performance


Psappha has signed up to the PRS Foundation Keychange gender balance initiative, working towards 50:50 representation by 2022. 45% of the composers programmed in Psappha’s 2019-20 Manchester concert series are female.


For more information:

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) - Sonata for two pianos and percussion

21 Aug  

Tragic news, with the death of French composer Julien Gauthier, who was attacked and killed by a bear whilst on a field recording expedition in the remote Northwest Territories of Canada. He was just 44.


Gauthier was a graduate of the Paris National Conservatory of Music and Dance. He was known for his interest in ambient recordings, often made in remote locations. In 2015, as his l’Atelier des Ailleurs artistic residency he spent five months in the Kerguelen Islands in the Antarctic (see video, below). This led the composition of his Symphonie australe for the Symphonic Orchestra of Bretagne and a sound diary Inaudita Symphonia  (more examples of his field recordings are available on his Soundcloud page). 


Interested in other musical cultures, Gauthier also worked with artists such as French-Syrian singer Climène Zarkan, jazz singer Roxane Roussel and Moroccan singer Oum. Gauthier had been composer in residence with the Orchestra of Bretagne since 2017 and had been preparing for a new symphonic project for the 2019–20 season.



21 Aug  

   John Palmer

Centred on a fatal triangle of characters, John Palmer’s Opera Re di Donne (King of Women) will be premiered by the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale di Spoleto “A. Belli” at the Teatro Caio Melisso, Spoleto 6 – 8 September 2019.


Re di Donne is an opera in one act and five scenes for four singers with ensemble and electronics. The opera deals with the problem of femicide explored within a fatal triangle and in a set of daily situations that will gradually lead to the final tragedy of the story. The different psychological aspects of the four characters – Ivana, Martina, Frida and Rocco – are treated in a musical dialectic where the dialogues of the singers are mirrored by the instruments of the ensemble. The voices blend with the instruments in a mutual search for colours and articulations where word and sound reflect two aspects of the same human condition. Thus, Rocco’s alter-ego is the trombone, Ivana’s the flute, Martina’s the clarinet and Frida’s the cello.


The music of  Re di Donne is diversified by the erratic circumstances of the story, the contradictions and the dark sides of each character, especially in relation to their idea of love as a vehicle for selfish satisfaction. In this context, the disturbing relationship of man and woman, banal and superficial, but at the same time abusive and cruel, is amplified by even more dysfunctional behaviour taking place between woman and woman. 


But it is not only a tragic opera: the circumstances of four ordinary lives will reveal the relentless power of vanity, jealousy and moral superficiality, at times with comic traits and bordering the ridiculous.


Re di Donne has been commissioned by the Istituzione Teatro Lirico Sperimentale. It will be published by Composers Edition.


RE DI DONNE (World Premiere)
SPOLETO Teatro Caio Melisso
Friday 6 September 8.30pm, Saturday 7 September 8.30pm, Sunday 8 September 5pm.


Music: John Palmer
Libretto: Cristina Battocletti, John Palmer
Conductor: Vittorio Parisi
Director: Alessio Pizzech
Staging: Andrea Stanisci
Lighting: Eva Bruno
Costume: Clelia De Angelis
Solo singers and instrumentalists of Teatro Lirico Sperimentale di Spoleto “A. Belli”


For more information about John Palmer:

17 Aug  

Bleak news on A-level results day (15th August), with information published by the Joint Council for Qualifications showing a continued decline in pupils studying the subject:


Since 2014 there has been a 30.2% decline in music entries at A-level.


Furthermore, a smaller percentage of students attained the top grades in music in 2019 compared to all A-level subjects. A total of 19.4% of pupils achieved A*-A grades in music compared to 25.5% for all subjects.


More information, here.

17 Aug  

On Wednesday the Incorporated Society of Musicians called upon the government to cover any post-Brexit costs associated with travelling to the EU27/EEA if there is a no deal Brexit. They estimated that those who travel with an instruments will incur additional costs of up to £1000 per year. Other costs will include private medical insurance, musical instrument certificates, international driving permits and, potentially, visas. 


The following day UK Music issued guidance in the event of a no deal Brexit. This includes links to advice relating to freedom of movement, the common travel area, VAT, data protection, copyright, exhaustion of IP, social security and carnets. 


Much of this, I have to say, is couched in legalese and is difficult to understand (the VAT changes are bewildering, especially if your situation is very specific) or simply asks you to look elsewhere for answers (helpful phrases such as ‘contact the relevant EU social security institution to check if you need to start paying social security contributions in that country, as well as in the UK.’). 


Good luck everyone…

15 Aug  

Ultima, Oslo’s festival of contemporary music take place in a number of the Norwegian capital’s performance spaces, including large auditoriums, churches, theatres and art galleries.


This year the theme is Traditions Under Pressure, reflecting ‘the role of modern music in constantly questioning and pushing at the limits of what is familiar to our ears.’ It leaves, no doubt intentionally, quite a bit of interpretive leeway, the result being that the programme is varied and hard to categorise. Not that that should discourage anyone from attending—there’s an awful lot to recommend amongst the 58 events. There are premieres aplenty, including Large Bird Mask, a major new commission from Rolf Wallin on 14th that promises to fill Oslo’s opera house ‘with a twilight chorus of contemporary chamber music inspired by birdsong.’ There is a new version of Lost Rooms, a documentary theatre performance by director Kjetil Skøien and composer Julian Skar. Originally exploring the plight of Balkan refugees, it has been updated to describe the experience of those displaced by the Syrian conflict. On 21st Øystein Wyller Odden’s Kraftbalanse, for piano, alternating current and orchestra is a musical representation of changes in the power grid. The work consists of a self-resonating grand piano that has been tuned to vibrate according to the frequencies emitted by AC current. There is also the opportunity to hear music from the next generation of composers on 19th, with a presentation of music from the European Ulysses platform for emerging young composers and performers and composers from the Norwegian Academy of Music.


Away from the premieres pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard will present Messiaen’s ornithological masterpiece Catalogue d’Oiseaux at three separate Oslo locations during the course of the day. There will be three opportunities to hear Echo Flux, a double-bill examining the relationship between dance and music, the two works on offer being Alban Richard & Sebastian Rivas’ the departed Heart and Ayelen Parolin & Ezra’s Primal. For the sixth year in a row, on 15th the festival will also run a day for children, offering the chance to roam the Sentralen venue playing instruments, watching films, reinterpreting the works of the main programme and much more.

6 Aug  

Belarusian composer and organist Anna Korotkina has died. She was just 57.


Korotkina graduated from the Minsk Institute of Culture and the State Academy of Music. She was a member of the Belarusian Union of Composers and the Society of Contemporary Music and winner of a grant and prize of the Minsk City Executive Committee. She was also active as a teacher and took an academic interest in creativity in children, presenting masterclasses at international conferences.


Korotkina’s style synthesised the modern and the traditional, most notably through her study of ancient Belarusian Orthodox vocal manuscripts. The style of singing found in them was recreated in her choral, piano and organ works. It for the last of these, her organ music, that she is best known outside her native Belarus. 

2 Aug  

Australian composer Barrington Pheloung died on 31st July. He was 65.


Pheloung was best known for his theme music for the detective series Inspector Morse. A lover of puzzles, in it he used Morse code to suggest the detective's name and even, within individual episodes, to signal the name of the killer. Pheloung also wrote music for the sequel to Morse, Lewis (2006–2015), and its prequel, Endeavor (from 2012).


Barrington was born in Manly, New South Wales. He learnt guitar from an early age, playing R&B in local bars before a burgeoning interest in classical music led him to London and the Royal College of Music. His first break was when he was commissioned to write a ballet score whilst still a student. 


His first job in television came in 1986, when he provided the score to the detective series, Boon. Morse followed in 1987, winning him acclaim and a Bafta Award nomination. Pheloung’s other credits include: Friendship’s Death (1985), Truly Madly Deeply (1991), The Legends of Treasure Island (1993), Hilary and Jackie (1998), Shopgirl (2005) and Red Riding (2009).


A much-loved figure in the music world, tributes on Twitter have been numerous. Composer Howard Goodall wrote: ‘So sad to hear of the death of brilliant & warm colleague, composer #BarringtonPheloung. His Morse themes have been an inspiration to all of us in the field. He was unfailingly generous, unfailingly professional & always put the music and his players first.’ Debbie Wiseman said ‘So very sad to hear of the passing of wonderfully talented, original and inventive composer #BarringtonPheloung - his music will live on in our memories, as will his warm and generous spirit. RIP’ Columnist and broadcaster Michael Coren wrote: ‘This is such a tragedy. #BarringtonPheloung was an enormously gifted composer, and what he wrote for the Morse series is extraordinary.’


Morse main theme

24 Jul  

This year’s Presteigne Festival has an American flavour, with one of the two composers’-in-residence being composer/harpist Hannah Lash. She will be the subject of a portrait concert on 25th, which will include UK premieres of Folksongs and Stalk. Her new concerto for flute and string orchestra, Fault Lines will receive its world premiere on 27th. Continuing the American theme, Aaron Copland will be the subject of a musical discovery event hosted by broadcaster and writer Stephen Johnson on 27th with a number of his works, including Appalachian Spring and Clarinet Concerto, programmed throughout.


Lash’s fellow composer-in-residence is Cheryl Frances-Hoad. Her Tales of the Invisible - a quintet for clarinet and strings, will receive its world premiere on 24th. Other works by her will include The Ogre Lover (also on 24th), O come, let us sing unto the Lord (as part of the festival eucharist on 25th) and the substantial Katharsis for cello and chamber orchestra (25th). Frances-Hoad will also be in conversation with Lash on 26th, where they will discuss their lives and careers with Anglo-American music publisher Louisa Hungate. 


Other premieres to look forward to are James Francis Brown’s String Trio No. 2 on 24th; Harriet Grainger’s Missa Brevis on 25th; Freya Waley-Cohen’s Winterbourne for string quartet on 25th; and works by Gregory Rose, Liam Mattison and Mark David Boden on 26th. 


As well as the music, there is a collection of supporting events including Sarah Gabriel’s one-woman show, Dorothy Parker takes a Trip, together with exhibitions, a trio of American movies, talks from Stephen Johnson, Ian Marchant and Nick Murray, poetry with Fiona Sampson and Welsh art with Peter Lord.


Artists appearing include the Albion Quartet, pianists Tom Poster and Siwan Rhys, virtuoso flautist Katherine Bryan, French clarinettist Rozenn le Trionnaire, string players Mathilde Milwidsky (violin), Alice Neary (cello), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) and Hannah Lash (harp), soprano Elizabeth Cragg and exciting young percussionist George Barton. A specially-formed Presteigne Festival Chamber Choir will be directed by Philip Sunderland and the Festival Orchestra will appear three times under artistic director, George Vass.


The full programme is available on the festival website here.

24 Jul  

The world’s largest arts festival, known especially for it popular comedy fringe, always runs a decent programme of contemporary classical music. Headlining this year’s events are tribute concerts to James Macmillan in this, his sixtieth birthday year (see video, below). These will include the chance to hear the Scottish Symphony Orchestra give the world premiere of his Symphony No. 5: Le grand Inconnu, performed alongside his Symphony No. 2 on 17th. There will also be performances of his organ concerto A Scotch Bestiary, his concerto for orchestra Woman of the Apocalypse, the First World War oratorio All the Halls and Vales Along, the cantata Quickening and the piano trio Fourteen Little Pieces. 


Away from the Macmillan festivities, there is the first European outing for John Adams’ piano concerto Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? on 4th and the UK Premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Glorious Percussion, played by brilliant Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, on 8th. Other featured composers during the festival include Kaija Saariaho, Ligeti, Lutosławski and 18-year-old American Tyson J. Davis, whose Delicate Tension will be performed by the National Youth Orchestra of the USA on 9th.

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