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24 Jul  

Tête à Tête kicks off tomorrow in London, running until 13th August. I’ve long wanted to experience the festival, probably the UK's liveliest forum for new opera, so am today heading to London for the first two days of the proceedings. The five operas I will be seeing give a fairly good idea of the sort of the range and relevance the festival offers.

 

Things kick off on Tuesday with Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow. Inspired by Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, it tells ‘several stories of Matilda, whose lies ignited a terrible fire, Henry King who ate too much string, and George, a little boy who causes lot of trouble…’ There then follows Litugie, a work that explores the story of the Virgin Mary in the realisation of a concept that actually began with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. The final work on the first day, is ID, Please, which addressed themes of immigration, identity and xenophobia in the age of Brexit and Trump. On Wednesday 26th is Pterodactyls of Ptexas, an electronic opera set in the Wild West. It features ‘trigger-happy cowgirls, gyrating dinosaurs, and saloon brawls.’ Then there is The United Kingdom of Earth: A Brexit Opera. I’m hoping that this might provide me with some light relief from the stresses of being British and living on the continent in uncertain times.

 

If these operas entice, then there is still time to get tickets for them. Alternatively, do take a look at the rest of the programme, which is stuffed full of similar delights. Also I should make mention of two pre-festival events that can be experienced today. There is Belongings, which is inspired by  items of luggage carried by railway passengers and will receive its premiere on the Caledonian Sleeper as it makes its journey from Aberdeen to Eston Station tonight. There will also be pop-up performances of the work throughout the festival. Road Memoir, finally, is a free twelve episode podcast opera available today. It follows the story of a woman forced to flee her home, turning from citizen to refugee. 




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19 Jul  

If the Last Night of the Proms was a focus of Brexit discontent in 2016, this year it was has been the been the first few nights. In the opening concert, Igor Levit performed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the adopted anthem of the EU, as an encore (he was also sporting an EU badge on his lapel). If that wasn’t enough, on the third night Daniel Barenboim made an impassioned humanitarian plea that appeared to be inspired by his opposition to Brexit.

 

Inevitably this has caused outrage in various wings of the press. Normal Lebrecht in the Spectator (reproduced on Slipped Disc) called the speech ‘out of order’, Stephen Pollard in the Telegraph called it ‘deeply irritating.’ The tabloids were rather more colourful, The Sun saying that ‘Barenboim ranted against the UK leaving the EU and had a German orchestra play Elgar’s Land of Hope of Glory in protest;’ the Express, in a similar vein, saying that the BBC Proms had been ‘hijacked by conductor’s anti-Brexit rant.’

 

I have some sympathy for Lebrecht’s take on the two events. He made a distinction between Levit’s intervention, which was purely musical and hence acceptable, and Barenboim’s which could more easily be said to have overstepped the mark. Similarly, despite Barenboim’s protestations that his speech was not political—he didn’t once mention Brexit— Pollard was right to observe that ‘you’d have to be verbally tone deaf not to get what he meant.’

 

Despite this, however, it is not unfair to say that Barenboim's words were only rendered controversial in the context in which he said them, that context being Brexit. A plea for greater education, for more European unity and for us to fight against extremism seems a fairly reasonable one for any person, including a musician, to make at any time. If he had said similar words at the Proms before 2016, I don’t think anyone would have remarked much upon them. That they are controversial now is another rather worrying sign of the times.

 

Daniel Barenboim’s speech:



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19 Jul  

The PRS Composers’ Fund aims to support the creative and professional development of talented composers by offering direct access to funding at pivotal stages in their careers. The fund offers £150,000 annually to support composers and enable them to realise projects and ambitions that may not be possible through traditional commissioning models.

 

The ten composes who will receive funding from PRS to support their various projects in 2017 are: Philip Cashian, Mark Bowden, Charlotte Bray, Sadie Harrison, Arlene Sierra, Julian Anderson, Naomi Pinnock, Emily Howard, Raymond Yiu, Roberto David Rusconi. Many congratulations to them!

 

You can see the many admirable ways in which they will use their funding, here

 

If you wish to apply for the next round of funding, the deadline is Autumn of this year.



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13 Jul  

Christian Morris talks to Till Janczukowicz, the CEO and founder of Idagio, a new music-streaming app dedicated to classical music that has some intriguing possibilities for composers.
 

Till Janczukowicz

What is Idagio?

It is a reaction to more than 20 years of pain. I have been lucky and privileged to always do what I wanted to do. I managed great musicians - conductors such as Seiji Ozawa and Christian Thielemann - I helped young talents start their career - like Arcadi Volodos and Juraj Valcuha - and produced concerts and recordings in all parts of the world. What I learnt is: every musician, every composer, young and unknown, famous and established - every musician has relevance for a certain public. The question is not 'is it relevant?' but 'for whom it is relevant?' It comes down to how can music be made available, when is the right moment to make it available, what is the right channel to make it available and to whom can it be made available? 

Look at what technology does in other areas of our daily life, look at Airbnb, look at Uber: technology helps connect supply and demand in a new way. More direct. This is exactly what classical music needs. A platform that manages processes in a smarter, faster and more efficient way than we used to manage them before. Or, to put it simply: the best streaming service for classical music. A service that understands the difference between composers, their works, conductors, orchestras, soloists and so on and that connects music directly to any smartphone and streaming device in the world. Idagio is a streaming service that helps musicians, composers and labels on one side and audiences on the other better reach out to each other. We have built our own technology as a base for what many already call "the best search in classical music." 

>> Click here to read the rest of the interview



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9 Jul  

Pierre Henry in 2008

French composer Pierre Henry died on Wednesday at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Paris. He was 89. 

 

Henry was known as one of the pioneers of noise in music, his interest beginning in his teenage years. Following studies with Messiaen and Boulanger at the Paris Conservatoire, Henry worked at Pierre Schaeffer’s RFT musique concrète studio, later collaborating with him in his Symphonie pour un homme,  a work written using the sounds of the human body. He later founded an electronic workshop, the first of its type in France, with Jean Baronnet. This resulted in works that explored mixing musique concrète with synthesised sounds (Coexistence, 1958; Investigations, 1959 and La noire à soixante, 1961).

 

The decade that followed showed an increasing preoccupation with spiritual matters with works such as La Messe de Liverpool, commissioned for the opening of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and L'Apocalypse de Jean (both 1968). The 70s became more self-referential, with Futuristie (1975), a tribute to musique concrète; and Parcours-Cosmogonie (1976) which recapitulated some of his own earlier works.

 

Henry exerted an influence on popular culture. He collaborated with American rock trio Violent Femmes (A Story, Featuring Pierre Henry) and his music was remixed on the LP Metamorphosé by Coldcut, DJ Vadim, William Orbit, Fatboy Slim, and Funki Porcini.

 

Henry’s output was large, more than 150 works, many of which are long. Composer Michel Chion has described his music as possessing ‘fecundity, forcefulness and a wide-ranging palette, an impeccable and sumptuous technique and a taste for excess and the bold mingling of the grotesque and the sublime.’

 

The Art of Sounds (2007). Directors: Éric Darmon & Franck Mallet.



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5 Jul  

NMC is taking preorders for its New Music Biennial Subscription in association with the PRS Music Foundation. The programme builds upon two earlier NMC programmes, the New Music Biennial 2014 and the Cultural Olympiad scheme, New Music 20×12. For £10 you will receive a series of recordings by Eliza Carthy, Mica Levi, Simon Holt, Peter Edwards, Jennifer Walshe and others. Also just released on NMC is Brian Elias’s Electra Mourns, a setting of a 5th century BC play by Sophocles, along with two song cycles, Meet me in the Green Glen and Once did I breathe another's breath. 

 

Brett Dean’s Dramatis personae for trumpet and orchestra and Luca Francesconi’s Hard Pace, Concerto for trumpet and orchestra receive electric performances by Håkan Hardenberger with the Gothenburg Symphony and conductor John Storgårds in a new release on BIS. Also on the label are instrumental works by Tommie Haglund, headlined by his prize-wining cello concerto Flaminis aura; and John Pickard’s Symphony No. 5 with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Martin Brabbins.

 

In the American Classics series Naxos has just made available recordings of viola concertos by Amanda Harberg and Max Wolpert, both of which were written for and here played by Brett Deubner. The title piece of Bright Sheng’s new album of chamber music, Northern Lights, explores a common thread in his music, that of folk music; Melodies for Flute, on the other hand, is inspired by Chinese poetry; Hot pepper by the ‘the spicy cuisine of Si Chuan province.’ The Naxos series exploring the music of Hungarian composer László Lajtha this month reaches volume 5 with the release of his Symphony No. 7 Revolution Symphony

 

Lyrita/Nimbus has just released archive recordings of works by Gordon Crosse. Whilst the performances and sound are variable, they are welcome additions to the discography of this no-nonsense serial composer. An interesting project by British Composer Orlando Gough, released on two CDs on Signum Classics, sees him attempting to recreate Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe using a viola consort, an ensemble that accompanied the sailor on the trip. It mixes music from 16th century England, sounds that the sailors might have heard as well music from local cultures along the route. On Alba, finally, is Orfeo Amoroso, a programme of guitar music played by Mari Mäntylä. It includes works by Graham Lynch, Pekka Jalkanen, Jukka Tiensuu, Nikita Koshkin, Anastasia Salo, Sid Hille, and Tõnu Kõrvits. 




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29 Jun  

This video speaks for itself, I think. If we cannot protect music education, what hope for the future of our industry?



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28 Jun  

Arts Council England has just announced its portfolio organisations that will receive funding over the next four years.

 

A greater percentage of money than in previous years will be used to fund organisations outside London (60.4% in 2018–22 as compared to 55.8% in 2015–18 and 53.8% in 2012–15). 

 

Musical organisations receiving funding for the first time include two for disabled musicians,  OpenUp Music and the British Paraorchestra; Plymouth Music Zone, which is involved with outreach work with vulnerable children and adults; and Sound City Music Festival.

 

The full list of portfolio organisation may be viewed here (Excel file).

 

From the Arts Council Website:

 

Our Chief Executive, Darren Henley, welcomes 831 organisations to the 2018-22 portfolio. Stay tuned to the blog this week and next for a series of posts on the new portfolio, including discussion of the organisations in your area, diversity, National Lottery investment, art forms and the new Sector Support Organisations.

 

Today, we announced our new National Portfolio for 2018-22 - a fresh, ambitious and wide-ranging group of organisations that we believe will bring new energy to the arts and cultural sector, while reaching more people in more places than ever before.

 

In all, 831 organisations will receive a total of £1.6 billion over four years for 844 projects. Importantly, we’ll be investing £170 million more outside London and there will be significantly increased investment in places like Reading, Bradford, Plymouth, Northumberland and Stoke.

 

The National Portfolio includes organisations across England of all sizes and scales, with museums and libraries coming into the portfolio for the first time.  Some organisations are well-established nationally or internationally, like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, the Royal Philharmonic and theatre company Punchdrunk.

Other portfolio organisations are just starting out, like the Factory – a major new international arts venue in Manchester. It will be exciting to see how the 183 organisations joining the portfolio grow and develop.

 

The new members include small organisations like Corali, a dance company of performers with learning disabilities, and The NewBridge Project, a vibrant community that supports talent development for individual artists. Larger organisations include Without Walls, a consortium that creates extraordinary outdoor work.

 

There will be 72 museums and seven libraries in the portfolio, including The National Holocaust Centre and Museum, the Bowes Museum in Teesdale, the Tank Museum in Dorset and library services in Barking and Dagenham, Suffolk and Leicester.

 

We’ve focused on ensuring that this is a diverse portfolio that will produce work relevant to the world we live in, as well as supporting fresh talent and artists from many different backgrounds and representing different perspectives. The arts, and society generally, urgently need to draw on the huge resources of our national diversity.

 

In 2016 we established the Elevate fund to prepare organisations keen to become part of the 2018-22 portfolio. We’re very pleased that of the 40 successful applicants to Elevate, 20 will now become portfolio members – including Ballet Black and Venture Arts, which champions the work of learning disabled visual artists.

 

This portfolio has emerged from an exhaustive and rigorous process, from initial consultations with the sector, through to the final balancing decisions. Financially, we’ve committed all we can to this new portfolio because we believe that this is the right time. Up and down England there are organisations, villages, towns and cities that will benefit hugely from this investment.

 

We have supported more organisations than ever before, but of course there have been hard decisions to make – often between applicants of great merit. We are fortunate to have such a variety and quantity of talent in our country.

 

I hope that those who have not made the portfolio on this occasion will be encouraged to come back next time. In the meantime they may find that we have other funding streams that are suitable for them, such as Grants for the Arts.

 

To those who have entered the portfolio: welcome. You are collectively embarking on a creative journey, which will bring some profound and positive changes to our arts and cultural sector and its relationship with the public.



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26 Jun  

French composer and organist Jacques Charpentier died on 15th June, aged 83. Partly self-taught, he was also decisively influenced by Indian music and by Olivier Messiaen. The fullest evidence of this was in his immense piano cycle 72 études karnatiques, based on Indian musical scales.

 

Charpentier also worked in a wide variety of other genres, including symphony and opera. He was also known as an administrator of French music and as a teacher, having spent seven years as professor of composition in Nice. 

 

72 études karnatiques



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21 Jun  

Trying to summarise concerts at this, the busiest time of year, is a fool’s errand. What follows, then, is the merest scratch of the surface of the many event on offer in July.

 

I've already summarised the main concerts at this year’s BBC Proms. I won't go over them again, except to say that things kick off on 14th July with the premiere of Tom Coult’s St. John’s Dance.

 

Apart from the Proms there are two other outstanding UK festivals to look forward to, both making reappearances after taking a break in 2016. The biennial Manchester International Festival (29th June–16th July) features more than 20 world premieres. Highlights include Available Light, a collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry; Thomas Ostermeier’s Returning to Reims, a response to the wave of populist politics sweeping Europe; and Cotton Panic!, a story based in the 19th century, where the scarcity of imported raw cotton brought the textile industries of Northern England to a standstill.

 

The Tête à Tête Opera Festival (25th July–13th August) is not normally biennial, so it is something of a relief to see it back this year. The break seems to have recharged its batteries, with a bewildering array of works on offer. Many of these are also on the cutting edge of contemporary events. On 25th July, for example, ID Please, explores ‘themes of immigration, identity and xenophobia.’ Its British-Iranian composer, Soosan Lolavar, was almost prevented from attending rehearsals in the US because of Trump’s first ‘Muslim ban’.  The following day is a performance of Dominic Robertson’s The United Kingdom of Earth: A Brexit Opera, featuring Boris Johnson in Downing Street in a tie dye suit… 

 

Other UK festivals to consider include the Cheltenham Music Festival (1st–16th), the Buxton International Festival (7th–23rd) and the Three Choirs Festival (22nd–29th). A dig around in their programmes will reveal at least handful of world premieres and concerts otherwise featuring contemporary music.

 

Looking further afield, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival (1st July–27th August) has the epic length one associates with the Proms, if not quite so many new music events. Despite this, there is a concert to celebrate the 80th birthday of Philip Glass; the premiere of Anna Clyne’s Three Sisters for mandolin and string orchestra; and a concert featuring the music of Hindemith prize-winner Samy Moussa. 

 

The Festival ‘Aix en Provence’s major new opera world premiere, Pinocchio by Philippe Boesmans, takes place on 3rd, with further performances on 7th, 11th and 14th July. The Bregenzer Festspiele begins on 19th July, but you’ll have to wait till 16th August for its own big opera premiere, with the first performance of Zesses Seglias’s To the Lighthouse, after the novel by Virginia Woolf. 

 

Some other festivals to consider include in Finland, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival (9th–22nd), in South France the La Roque d’Anthéron International Piano Festival (21st–19th August) and, even further afield (at least for me) in South Africa, the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival (30th June-9th July), which will feature the music of British-based South African composer Robert Fokkens.



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14 Jun  

Musicians looking for rays of soft Brexit hope following Theresa May’s disastrous election last week might reflect on the fact that far from softening Brexit, it may have produced something worse: gridlock.

 

The effects of Brexit on the music industry have included higher prices for digital downloads, for musical instruments, computer equipment and possibly vinyl records. The potential loss of free movement coupled with generally negative attitudes towards immigration have resulted in whole orchestras leaving the UK, difficulties filling vacancies in those that have stayed and falling EU student numbers. Neither can the wider implications be ignored. A healthy arts sector does not exist in isolation—it depends on a healthy economy. With the UK registering the smallest growth of all 28 EU members in the first quarter of this year, it seems that some of the warnings made before the referendum are beginning to come true. When the Treasury coffers are empty, the arts will be among the first to suffer.

 

Suspending disbelief for a moment, it is possible, of course, that the hard Brexiters are correct. If we cut ourselves off from the EU completely, this dismal period will lead to a land of milk, honey and Schrödinger’s cake (had and eaten). In this context, whilst Theresa May’s Brexit approach did not look particularly attractive before her ill-judged election, at least it was a strategy, of sorts. There was chance of ridding ourselves of some of the uncertainly. Now May will have to negotiate a Brexit that satisfies her hard Brexit right wing; the DUP, who are quite keen on Brexit but don't want a hard border with Ireland; those who want to stay in the customs union, led by Philip Hammond; and those who appear to be suggesting we stay in the Single Market, most notably the newly powerful Ruth Davidson. All the while, the possibility of building a cross-party consensus is scuppered by the fact that Corbyn will probably be content to watch the whole farce play out until he gets what he really wants: a new election.

 

All the while Article 50 ticks away. Not a clock, but an explosive device. If the politicians continue to be unable to defuse the bomb they have so happily built, primed and activated, we are all going to be faced by the worst kind of Brexit possible: a no deal Brexit. It will wreak havoc not just with our own industry, but with the country as a whole.



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12 Jun  

English composer Malcolm Lipkin died on 2nd June aged 85. Under the influence of his teacher Mátyás Seiber he music exhibited elements of serialism, but he always remained his own man, never fully adopting the system. His later fully found his voice in a distinctive tonal style.

 

Lipkin wrote thee symphonies; concertos for violin, piano, flute and oboe; and a number of chamber and vocal works.

 

Malcom Lipkin Symphony No.3 The Sun



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7 Jun  

This iOS app from independent developer Alexei Baboulevitch won a Children’s Technology Review award, which suggests that it might not be much use for creative professionals. That would be wrong.

 

The app takes an entirely graphic approach to composition. You are presented with a canvas with pitch on the vertical axis, time on the horizontal. Once you’ve chosen an instrument you press record and draw (with finger or Apple Pencil) in realtime or, if you prefer, you can enter a line note by note. You can zoom in and out, edit and assign a variety of instruments to different layers within a score. And that’s about it. 

 

The most obvious use case for such an app would be within a classroom or by someone not versed in staff notation. I would argue, however, that trying to use it to write traditional (especially tonal) music would not be the best use case since, actually, one still has to have a knowledge of musical grammar. The application doesn’t much help with this, giving you the whole gamut of 12 notes to choose from— finding the right notes would be pretty tricky for a beginner. But as a tool for creating imaginative sound collages and the like it has immense potential. And this doesn't just apply to educational users, but to much more experienced composers too.

 

The greatest achievement of this app is that it frees you from the tyranny of both barline and chromatic scale. Any kind of microtonal nuance is easy to achieve. The best way to think of it would be like directly composing a graphic score, such as those produced in the 50s and 60s by the likes of Ligeti, Stockhausen and Xenakis. Unlike, say, in Ligeti’s Artikulation, however, where the score is merely a graphic representation of hours of painstaking work to produce an electronic composition, here sound and symbol are directly linked, but have (or have the potential to have) the same flexibility offered by electronic manipulation.

 

If the app is to become really useful for professional composers it could do with expanding its feature set. There are several export option (AAC, MIDI, JSON and ZIP archive) though no import options. It is the latter that would make this a really powerful tool. It would be brilliant, for example, to be able to import and write with user generated sounds or to be able to import a conventional audio track, and then paint round it with this application. The editing tools too could do with enlarging. There is no copy and paste and it would be good to be able to edit the shape and position of individual notes. 

 

Despite this it’s still possible to do real creative work with Composer’s Sketchpad. It’s power lies in the simplicity of its conception and perfect use of finger or stylus input. If you want to give it a try you can download the lite version for free, the full version costs just £3.99.

 

 



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28 May  

The latest contemporary music phenomenon is Dutch pianist Joep Beving. For fun, Beving uploaded some of his music to Spotify. Since doing so his compositions have been streamed an astonishing 85 million times. The music probably only just qualifies for the classical contemporary label, Beving himself describing it as being more for a pop audience: “It’s chill-out, easy listening … mood-type music for people to calm down and feel comforted, like being in a bubble, protected.” You can make up your own mind here:

His latest album, Prehension, can also be found at YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music.

 

Wergo seem to have been subsumed into Schott and deprived of what used to be a rather excellent website. The best way to find their new releases now seems to be taking a look at their Facebook page. Happily, these still seem to be coming thick and fast, with four albums worth considering this month: a disk of unusual duet pairings by Keiko Harada; music for voice and instruments by Tom Sora; works for soprano by Wolfgang Rihm, Aribert Reimann and Hans Werner Henze; and chamber music by Ying Wang. 

 

As Leonard Bernstein’s centenary (1918-2018) approaches, Bridge records has begun its celebrations early with a new recording of the composer’s complete piano music played by Andre Cooperstock. They have also released a programme of works for large chamber ensemble and wind ensemble by Gregory Mertl; and Rites of Passage, a disk of chamber music by Martin Boykan.

 

Bracing Change, a new album featuring of string quartets by Simon Holt, Donnacha Dennehy and Anthony Gilbert marks the beginning of a new project from NMC featuring new string commissions. Also on NMC is a programme of music by Gavin Higgins, Mark Bowden, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Kate Whitley and Quinta (stage name of composer Katherine Mann). All are past Rambert Fellows, the works here being played by the Rambert Orchestra.

 

Nimbus has released a mixed programme of works by George Benjamin, including Flight, a work written in his late teens for solo flute. A DVD of a 2014 performance of Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah has just been made available over at Naxos. Also, if you are unimpressed by Joep Beving’s piano music, check out From My Beloved Country, a programme of South African piano music played by Renée Reznek. It’s proper, stimulating contemporary music, just as capable of being enjoyed by a wide range of listeners. 



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24 May  

Maria Wanda Milliore, originator of the fantastical lake opera sets at the Bregenz Festival, died on May 12th aged 96.

 

It was for a performance of Mozart’s Bastien et Bastienne in 1946 that she conceived the novel design, variations of which continue to this day.

 

A history of these designs, together with fascinating pictures, is available here.

 

And here is a short documentary on the construction of the lakeside set for the 2014 production of The Magic Flute: 

 



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24 May  

Simon Rattle has spoken about Brexit, remarking how some musicians a the LSO broke down in tears the day after the decision. He also said that there are already fewer applications from European musicians to play in the orchestra. 

 

As for himself, he said 'I feel more European than ever.’

 

The full interview is in German, here.

 

Here is a translated version.



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20 May  

A surprising and pleasurable piece of news. In a listing ranking UK university music departments, Surrey University came second, being placed above such august institutions as the Royal Academy, Royal College and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 

 

The surprise came from such a relative unknown being placed second, the pleasure from the fact that this was where I studied for my first degree…



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17 May  

Several big festivals to look forward to next month. In Amsterdam the Holland Festival (3–25 June) contains a mixture of theatre, dance, music, visual arts and film. There is plenty of new music, highlights including premieres from Mouse on Mars on 10th, new works from Indonesia on 16th, the world premiere of Kate Moore’s Sacred Environment on 24th. There are also several chances to hear works by American composer George Crumb and concerts that revive undeservedly forgotten works by Dutch composers.

 

The Aldeburgh Festival (9th–25th) contains, as always, a number of works by Benjamin Britten, with performances and explorations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the first Snape Maltings outing for Billy Budd. New works include Bill Fontana’s installation Acoustic Visions–Snape Maltings, available throughout the festival, Knussen’s setting of haiku texts Hototogisu, and Deborah Pritchard’s Wall of Water; Edge. That last piece is another response (see my CD review, below) to Maggi Hambling’s Walls of Water series of paintings, which will be on display during the festival. There are also a number of premieres from featured composers Olga Neuwirth and Jörg Widmann.

 

The St. Magnus International Festival (16th–24th) marks its connections with Norway with visits from the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Berken Domkor, not to mention the Norwegian Crown Prince and Princess. A second thread will be a celebration of the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St, Magnus, which provides the inspiration for Alasdair Nicolson’s new work I, Pilgrim, to be performed on the opening night. Other composers receiving premieres include Paul Crabtree, Geoff Palmer, Gemma McGregor, Philip Cashian, Stuart MacRae, Marco Ramelli and the eight composers taking part in the St Magnus Composers’ Course.

 

The Munich Opera Festival begins on 18th and runs until the last day of July. There are major productions of older repertoire, including La Traviata, Figaro, The House of the Dead and a complete production of The Ring. Contemporary works include Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek, Franz Schreker’s The Stigmatized, Joby Talbot’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (ballet) and Gordon Kampe’s Can you whistle, Johanna (children’s opera). 

 

Outside the festivals there are a few other bits and pieces to look out for. At the Barbican on 2nd Thomas Adès begins his survey of Beethoven Symphonies with the Britten Sinfonia. Each of the concerts will be paired with works by Gerald Barry beginning, appropriately enough, with Beethoven. Also at the Barbican on 11th is a celebration marking 350 years since the writing of Paradise Lost, with new works from Joel Rust and Edward Nesbit. From 9th–17th ENO will be playing Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, the first European run for the jazz-infused chamber opera. Glyndebourne, meanwhile, will give the world premiere of Brett Dean’s new opera Hamlet on 11th, with performances until 6th July (on which day it will also be available to view in cinemas)



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13 May  

Harriet Mackenzie (violin), Retorica, English Symphony Orchestra, English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods (conductor). Nimbus NI 6295.

 

Violinist Harriet Mackenzie and conductor Kenneth Woods have both made appearances on this blog before. Mackenzie is a great champion of contemporary music, both as a solo artist and with duo partner Philippa Mo (who also appears in one work on this disk). They chatted to C:T back in 2014 about their disk of violin duos, featuring music by living English composers. The enthusiasm and deep knowledge of both was palpable, not just in their interview, but also in extensive and lively email correspondence.

 

The English Symphony Orchestra, now under the baton of Kenneth Woods, have likewise done much to promote contemporary composers, their work going back almost four decades. One of their recent premieres was of Philip Sawyers’ Symphony No. 3. Sawyers explained how the performance became part of a wider project examining the symphony in the 21st century, the ESO commissioning nine new works, including his own. That project is ongoing, so this new disk, An Eventful Morning in East London: 21st Century Violin Concertos is, then, an excellent way of whetting our appetites for pleasures to come.

 

In a sense the title is a misnomer; only two of the pieces here go by the name of violin concerto, though a third, Paul Patterson’s Allusions for 2 solo violins and strings, might just as well be—its traditional fast-slow-fast shape being the only work that makes use of the traditional concerto shape. The ‘Allusion’ of the title refers, nevertheless, not to the form but to the fact that each movement uses a section of a well-known opera as a starting point: the final fugue of Verdi’s Falstaff in the first movement, the Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni in the second movement (even if the Bartokian starkness made me think more of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle), and a witty reworking of the overture to Figaro in the third. Typically of Patterson, the music is wide in range—vigorous and entertaining but not eschewing darker territory where necessary.

 

Deborah Prichard is known for her synaesthetic approach to composition, Wall of Water being no exception. It is a response to Maggi Hambling’s magnificent Walls of Water series of paintings, which she and violinist Mackenzie viewed being made at the artist’s studio in Suffolk. The result is not strictly programmatic, but the work has undoubtedly absorbed something of the elemental character of the visual pieces. It reverses some of the concerto conventions, unfolding impressively from a majestic cadenza that leads to a fast and fluid passage before returning to the stasis of the opening. 

 

David Mathews’ single movement Romanza for solo violin and string orchestra plays elegantly with waltz form. After an expressive opening section we suddenly find ourself tripping along in a world that has the all the urbanity of Strauss without any of the platitudes—the transition back to the opening material near the end, for example, is spine-chilling.

 

The title of Fokkens’ exhilarating and colourful An Eventful Morning Near East London refers not to the UK, but a ‘cattle-infested stretch of the N2 motorway between East London and Umtata’ in the composer’s native South Africa. It is possible that this was an intentional play on words—Fokkens' music often reflects the tension of being a South African abroad. It opens in the stratospheric upper regions of the violin, played with extraordinary control by Mackenzie, before outlining a lugubrious procession that leads to a peroration of Sacre–esque energy. 

 

The final piece, Emily Doolittle’s falling still for violin and strings, is informed by her interest in sounds from the natural world— she divides the ensemble so that the strings represent a non-sentient natural process, such as the movement of water or geological phenomena, the soloist a living creature in the form of birdsong. The effectiveness relies on the starkness of the juxtaposition—simple repeating chords vs. the melodic weaving of the soloist. Mackenzie describes it as a kind of ‘modern Lark Ascending’. It can’t quite reach those expressive heights, but it is a beautiful nevertheless.

 

Apart from what is a deeply satisfying and varied programme of music, it is not possible to conclude without again mentioning the performers. Two of the works here presented would not exist without the collaboration between Mackenzie and the composers. For that and also her flawless musicianship, everywhere in evidence here, we have much to be grateful for. The same extends to this magnificent orchestra under their conductor Kenneth Woods. Many conductors pay lip service to promoting new music, what Woods has memorably described as the programming ‘shit sandwich’—an unpalatable modern work between two stalwarts. His mission is to demonstrate that modern repertoire needs no such support, a fact that this disk proves in spades.



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10 May  

The Royal Philharmonic Society announced their music awards yesterday evening at The Brewery in the City of London. The awards celebrate live music-making and recognise outstanding musical achievement in the UK during 2016. Award winners are chosen by independent juries of leading music practitioners from hundreds of nominations nationwide. RPS Chairman John Gilhooly said the ceremony:

 

"This year’s RPS Music Award winners take no prisoners, united in their excellence and their commitment to removing barriers to listening or participation in classical music.  The awards celebrate live music of extraordinary quality and ambition, taking place across the width and breadth of the country (closer to home than many might think).  I’d urge those who have yet to experience its multifarious pleasures to get out there and listen and make music, in the moment, of the moment.  Live Music Is… more vibrant than ever.”

 

The full list of winners is as follows:

 

Audiences and Engagement: East Neuk Festival, in collaboration with 14-18 NOW: Memorial Ground (David Lang)

Chamber Music and Song: Fretwork

Chamber-Scale Composition: Rebecca Saunders: Skin

Concert Series and Festivals: Lammermuir Festival 

Conductor: Richard Farnes 

Creative Communication: Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet by Edward Dusinberre (Faber)

Ensemble: Manchester Camerata

Instrumentalist: James Ehnes

Large-Scale Composition: Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis 

Learning and Participation: South-West Open Youth Orchestra

Opera and Music Theatre: Opera North: Ring Cycle

Singer: Karita Mattila

Young Artists: Joseph Middleton

 

 

More information at the RPS website.




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