Archive for the ‘London’ category

‘Tristan und Isolde’ at Covent Garden

October 3, 2009

Nina-Stemme-as-Isolde-and-Ben-Heppner-as-Tristan

Well!  The Royal Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has really set the cat among the pigeons.  I couldn’t possibly comment myself, being closely involved with it (I wrote and edited the surtitles).

The critics’ reaction has been generally more than favourable (four or five stars) – the audience’s markedly less so (one seasoned witness said ‘I’ve never heard booing like it in the Opera House’)…

If you really want to see the fur flying, check out Charlotte Higgins’ blog on the Guardian website, and (especially) all the follow-up comments.  Most interesting.

Were you there?  What did you think?  Let me know — add a comment below.

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DISCLAIMER
Please note — all views expressed on this site are my own (or those of other contributors or persons quoted) and do not represent the views or policy of The Royal Opera or any other employer or organisation mentioned.

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 photo (uncredited) stolen from Charlotte Higgins’s blog

Garden Opera: The Barber of Seville

September 16, 2009

GardenOpBarber

On Friday 11 September, to Garden Opera at Ravenscourt Park, London W6 – the very last performance of their summer-long season, and the only one we could get to!

The weather was kind – not too chilly, and it didn’t rain.  The setting was a lovely peaceful enclosed space, disturbed only by the occasional District Line train and the enthusiastic intervention of some local parakeets.  Handy tea-shop before the performance, loos rather a long dash in the interval…  The audience we presume were mostly local:  pretty much a full house, appreciative and animated.

The opera was Rossini’s BARBER OF SEVILLE, in a very simple, slick and extremely funny production by Katharina Wienecke.  The action was set in ‘Dr Bartolo’s Circus’, seemingly an odd idea but it worked very well, with Rosina ‘The Singing Bird’ (in a cage, of course) as the star attraction, her disgruntled guardian Dr Bartolo a retired animal-tamer, and Basilio an unlikely magician, forever producing scarves, flowers and magic wands from a variety of orifices.  Count Almaviva and Figaro the barber survived relatively unscathed from Rossini’s (or his librettist’s) original conception.  Occasional inconsistencies (Dr Bartolo was required to be a physician after all, to match the text of his patter-aria) either didn’t impinge or were turned into sources of comedy.  And, as in the best Barber performances, there were moments of (almost) genuine pathos.

The show took forever to get going, partly because of interminable if well-intentioned announcements from a distinguished local worthy (over incessant pre-recorded fairground organ music);  then the Overture started as another fairground organ piece, gradually morphing into the ‘live’ orchestra of Peter Bridges and his small but perfectly formed circus band (flute doubling clarinet, trumpet doubling flugelhorn – David Clewlow, no less – plus two violins, cello and the maestro himself on piano).  At long last the opera itself began;  the first scene (even without the chorus) does seem interminable, but that is Rossini’s fault. 

Once the show got up steam (more…)

Salomon Orchestra, 3 March 2009

March 4, 2009

salomon

London has dozens of amateur orchestras, each proclaiming itself ‘the finest amateur orchestra in the capital’.  Well, the Salomon Orchestra really is the finest non-professional orchestra in London.  Founded in 1963, it contains some of the best players on the circuit.  I grew up with these guys (and girls) and a surprisingly large number of them seem to have been in the orchestra for as long as I can remember!  (– which makes one worry where the next generation of really good amateur players is coming from…)

Their concerts are always a treat, and Tuesday’s was something special.  It was interesting to see how many distinguished amateur orchestral players were in the St John’s audience:  many were current or ex-members of Salomon who weren’t actually playing in this concert, but others had come to admire – a sign of the esteem in which this orchestra is held.

Unlike most other amateur bands, Salomon doesn’t rehearse on a weekly basis, but has a series of concentrated rehearsals just before each concert.  This really pays off.  Nor does it have a regular conductor;  this pays off too.  Guest conductor Dominic Wheeler electrified the band into disciplined playing of tremendous precision, energy and musicianship.

The concert opened with Benjamin Britten’s Fanfare for St Edmundsbury – three solo trumpets at corners of the gallery, playing three different fanfares in different keys, separately and then together.  As so often with Britten, a simple trick, but very effective (you think ‘I wish I’d thought of that!’).

Then Britten’s unjustly neglected Violin Concerto from 1939, an ambitious and accomplished work from a 26-year-old composer with a firm grasp of contemporary musical developments across Europe (and the world:  the score was completed in Canada and the USA).  In its breadth and easy authority it reminds me of Bartok’s 3rd Piano Concerto, although there are astonishing echoes (or pre-echoes) of Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

Soloist was the assured and hugely talented Sara Trickey, who conveyed the work’s searing intensity with power and brilliance.  If the last movement seemed to outstay its welcome, that might have been my fault rather than Britten’s.

After the interval, Dvořák’s unfamiliar Othello Overture – alas, unfamiliar to the orchestra too, it seemed:  I guess the rehearsal time had been mostly taken up with the other works on the programme.  But despite uncharacteristically ragged ensemble and some wrong entries, the performance was powerful and compelling, and Dvořák’s sonorities were beautifully conveyed (who else would score a chord for brass with just a cor anglais added?).

Finally, the piece I had come for:  Martinů’s Symphony No. 6 (more…)

London Phoenix Orchestra — A Little Light Music

February 9, 2009

phoenixlite

Yes, we’re here again! Lev Parikian conducts the London Phoenix Orchestra in a scintillating programme of American and Russian light music, with overtures to two great shows – Gershwin’s Girl Crazy and Bernstein’s Candide – and Gershwin’s brilliant tone picture, An American in Paris.   And there are three nice little pieces by Leroy Anderson (whose centenary was last year), and the so-called ‘Jazz Suite No. 2’ by Shostakovich, which isn’t jazz at all but is, er, a lot of fun (especially for the saxophonists).  Oh, and Shostakovich’s ‘Tahiti Trot’, better know to you and me as ‘Tea for Two’.

(And I get to play the contra!  That was a nice surprise.)

It’s on Tuesday 24 February (which happens to be my birthday) at Cadogan Hall

BE THERE!!

Phoenix Orchestra — again

November 27, 2008

phoenix02_12_08

Yes, the London Phoenix Orchestra has another concert next week.  It’s a ‘rush hour’ concert at St Andrew’s, Holborn, in the city of London, at 6.30 pm on Tuesday 2 December.  Nice short programme, so we’ll all be in the pub by 7.30 (you included, if you come!).

Catherine Lindley leads the orchestra, Lev Parikian conducts.  Ravel‘s stately but slightly weird Menuet Antique is followed by the amazing Ellie Lovegrove in the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, then we finish with an ambitious choice — Messiaen’s L’Ascension.  Extraordinary organ-like textures and dazzling colours.

Don’t miss it!

Erica Eloff at the Wigmore Hall

November 17, 2008

erica 

The South African soprano Erica Eloff first appeared on my radar as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Garsington Opera last summer:  tall, poised, magnetic;  a fabulous voice, big, smooth and even;  a commanding presence, and acting which covered the range from comedy to tragedy, always with intensity and controlled emotion.  (And one of her teachers – as with so many rising sopranos, especially at Garsington – was my old chum Lillian Watson.)

So when I had the chance to hear Erica in a Kirckman Concert Society recital at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday, I knew I was in for a treat.

With the young and very impressive James Baillieu – also from South Africa – as her accompanist, she gave us a varied programme in a wide variety of languages, all sung with perfect diction and idiomatic pronunciation.

She began with some Schubert rarities in Italian, Vier Canzonen (D688), and continued in French with Fauré’s Poème d’un jour (three songs), Après un rêve and Fleur jetée, beautifully delivered and very touching.

So far she seemed accomplished if somewhat restrained, perhaps a little nervous (and not flattered by the awful overhead lighting;  Wigmore, can’t you manage something better than this?).  But with her next cycle of songs she was transformed:  Alleenstryd (Outcast:  the Lone Struggle) is a set of six enormously powerful songs in Afrikaans with a strong political message, composed  by Hendrik Hofmeyr (born 1957).  The music was muscular, occasionally thorny, and full of character (James Baillieu told us that the composer was one of his teachers, so the work had a personal significance for him too).  Singing in her own language, Erica Eloff finally came totally alive, bewitching us with a range of moods from despair and cynicism to flirtatiousness, nostalgia, anger and pride.  A tremendous achievement.  CD, please!

After the interval, another country, another language – Edvard Grieg’s six songs in German, Op. 48.  Grieg is such a glorious composer (and hardly given sufficient coverage in 2007, the centenary of his death);  these songs are among his loveliest and best known, and show Grieg’s unerring talent for setting a scene with the simplest of means, not to mention his gift for a great tune.  Again Erica Eloff held us captivated with her flawless singing, her wit and charm, and her alertness to every change of mood.

Finally, Rachmaninov’s Six Songs, Op. 38, gave us yet another language (Russian) and an even bigger range of moods and colours.  An ambitious choice, but one to which she rose impressively, her voice seamlessly beautiful and powerful from top to bottom of a big range.  At the end of the final song, ‘A-oo’, she held her expression of despair, puzzlement and sadness (‘But where are you? … I sing, I search, “A-oo”, I cry’) even throughout the long instrumental postlude.

A lovely little Afrikaans encore sent us away in high spirits, aware that we were witnessing the start of a great career.  Certainly a soprano to watch.  I can’t wait for her next stage appearance, nor her first CD, nor (dare we hope) a place as Miss South Africa at Cardiff Singer of the World?  She deserves it.

Thanks to Matthew Brailsford and the Kirckman Society, and my brother Tony, for the train of circumstances that led me to be part of this event!  And to Erica for her friendly post-concert greetings and glass of bubbly.  And to Diana for the photograph.

Sorry, chaps

November 1, 2008

So many wonderful things since I last wrote – pressure of work and other activities has prevented me blogging them, much as I wanted to.  So here is a list of what I should have written about, for your edification and delight…

Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra concert, Saturday 4 October – especially the Schumann Konzertstück for four horns, magisterially played by Richard Lewis, Jo Towler, Duncan Gwyther and Liz Kadir.  Wow.

Haydn’s Creation at the Korean Full Gospel Church in Raynes Park, Sunday 12 October – lots of fun, the Koreans charming and lovely, my contra bottom B flat much appreciated!

The English Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, Wednesday 15 October – Tippett, Britten (Les Illuminations with stunning young soprano Mary Bevan), plus some works by Arab composers including the brilliant and hilarious Saxophone Concerto by Waleed Howrani – a perfect Last Night of the Proms piece?

Celebrity Recital at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 19 October – Emma Johnson, Julian Lloyd Webber, John Lill, surprisingly not a full house:  a treat of Beethoven and Brahms clarinet trios, the Weber Grand Duo Concertant, Julian playing two of his father’s pieces (with Andrew in the audience), and John Lill scorching our eyebrows off with the Chopin C minor Nocturne and the amazing Prokofiev Toccata

Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran at the Opera House, with Juan Diego Florez

Our very own Phoenix Orchestra concert (see previous post) on Thursday 23 October, especially the wonderful and inexhaustible Tom Poster in the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto

The Esbjerg Ensemble at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 26 October:  Nonet by Louise Farrenc, Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and wind (fantastic), the Schumann Piano Quintet (wonderful as ever).  Slightly dour Danish group, lifted to a higher plane by the tiny, sparky, beaming and incredibly accomplished pianist Marianna Shirinyan (who she??)

And the Brodsky Quartet at Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 29 October – Beethoven Razumovsky No. 1 (what a wonderful piece), Tchaikovsky Quartet No. 1, and two little Stravinsky numbers (Concertino and Three Pieces) which were spellbinding.

Now I’m off to rehearse contra in Boléro (don’t ask)…

Normal service one of these days!

thanks for the picture, Diana…

Phoenix Orchestra concert next week!

October 18, 2008

Yes, the London Phoenix Orchestra has a wonderful concert coming up next Thursday, 23 October at 7.30 pm, at St John’s, Smith Square, London SW1.

Great programme, beginning with Glinkas rollercoaster overture Ruslan and Ludmila, then Rachmaninov‘s not so well-known Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Tom Poster;  then Sibelius‘s SYMPHONY NO. 3, again not so well known as some of his others but a little gem.

Don’t miss it!  our conductor, as always, will be the ever amazing and inexhaustible Lev Parikian, leader Catherine Lindley.

See you there…

The Berkeley Ensemble

October 3, 2008

Another nice old London church, another concert…

This was at St George’s Hanover Square, a fine 18th-century building designed by John James in 1721-24, with connections with George Frederick Handel.  Broad, handsome, light and spacious, it is a fine church and a great venue for music (…but MIND YOUR HEAD if you’re going to the loo 😦 …)

Wednesday’s lunchtime concert was part of the Midweek Music in Mayfair series, given by the BERKELEY ENSEMBLE, a chamber group formed from members of the Southbank Sinfonia – including my niece Rosie on bassoon.

They played two pieces:  Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K581, and the Octet by Howard Ferguson (1908-1999) – surrealistically misprinted in the programme as ‘Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006)’, a jazzer who did indeed have an octet but didn’t write this one.

The Mozart featured John Slack on clarinet – one of the current breed of ultra-cool clarinettists, which is nice because he doesn’t intrude when it isn’t his solo, but he seemed almost too laid back to the point of disappearance on occasion, and it took him a while to warm up to pitch (which is odd:  shouldn’t the strings have tuned to him?).  Oddly, the first violin, Tatiana Bysheva, also seemed to disappear at times, but that might just have been from where I was sitting.  Otherwise the strings provided a rock-solid support, warm, dependable and very pleasing – Rebecca Mathews on 2nd violin, Dan Shilladay on viola (relishing his ‘sighing’ moment in the second Trio of the Minuet:  I always imagine that this part was originally played by Mozart himself), and, above all, Gemma Wareham holding everything together from below with her authoritative (but discreet) cello playing.   [click here for biographies of the players]

I came away thinking (as always) ‘What a wonderful piece this is’, which was the right reaction!  The clarinet (as played in the 1780s and 90s by Anton Stadler) brought out the best in Mozart;  I can never quite work out whether the thematic unity of the Quintet is deliberate, or if Mozart just came out with the same thematic shapes whenever he imagined the sound of the clarinet.  Either way it makes for a most satisfying and tightly-knit experience.

Then the Howard Ferguson:  I have to confess (more…)

Proms: RSNO/Deneve, Chicago Symphony Orch/Haitink

September 11, 2008

Bernard Haitink

Bernard Haitink

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now seriously back at work full-time so no time for lengthy blog, alas.  However, I must celebrate the end of my Prom-going season which ended with a couple of crackers!

 

Stéphane Denève and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Saturday) gave a stunning performance of Debussy’s La Mer – dazzling orchestral detail, lovingly shaped, deeply felt.  Denève (conducting without a score) may have lingered slightly over some of the significant turning points, but I felt this was absolutely ‘his’ music and he was totally inside it.  Lovely orchestral playing, especially the finely-tuned woodwind and acutely pointed trumpets (if you see what I mean).  Unbelievably quiet pianissimos when required, and blazing loud passages that seemed to point to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (never thought that about La Mer before).  (But where were the disputed fanfares in the last movement?)

 

(Going backwards through their programme…) The less said about their Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough the better.  Hough was having an off night (nerves?), stumbling and hurrying all over the place.  The orchestra was stodgy, dull and ragged.  It felt like a bad ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ performance.

 

Thea Musgrave’s ‘Rainbow’ was nice – pretty, simple, appropriately colourful, did what it said on the tin.

 

Albert Roussel’s Bacchus and Ariadne Suite No. 2 was a revelation – great music, chirpy, quirky, powerful and dangerous.  Lovely stuff.

 

On Tuesday it was Bernard Haitink and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – I couldn’t make the Mahler 6 the previous night, so this one was not to be missed (and very crowded it was too).

 

One rarely hears ‘big-orchestra’ Mozart these days – although it could be argued that (more…)