Archive for the ‘music’ category

Three Hastings Composers

November 3, 2014

An exciting opportunity to hear the work of THREE HASTINGS COMPOSERS never before heard in their home town!

Treblos Wind Quintet plays works by Keith Beal, Jonathan Burton and Michael Short, along with pieces by Mozart and Bizet.

Friday 7 November at 7.30 pm, St Clement’s Church, Old Town, Hastings — it would be great to see you there!

For more details, or to reserve tickets, please email Jonathan at jg.burton@virgin.net, or call Keith on 01424 430040.

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R I P Chris Hogwood

September 25, 2014

SSO Hogwood 1Very sad to hear of the passing of Christopher Hogwood (1941–2104).

Back in the summer of 1968, I had just left school and the family moved from Hitchin to Cambridge (where most of my father’s work was based). In those days the received wisdom was that ‘you couldn’t go to Oxbridge straight from school’, so I needed to find a ‘gap year’ course to prepare me for the big leap. We lighted on ‘Cambridge Tech’ (the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology, as it then was – now Anglia Ruskin University), which offered a one-year ‘Post-A-Level Music’ course for people in my position or otherwise with a year to spare. The college was in walking distance of our new house (which a secretary at the Tech had actually helped us find!) so every day I would trot over to the collection of ‘temporary’ Terrapin huts – creaking under the weight of grand pianos – which constituted the Music Department along with a car park full of garden sheds (each with chair, piano, music stand and electric heater), Male and female mobile loos, and the neighbouring (dark and freezing) Zion Baptist Chapel for extra performing space.

Course director and our tutor in Music History was a bright young chap named Christopher Hogwood, fresh from Cambridge and postgraduate studies in Prague (he was then 27). From the start, he was an inspiration to the rather random selection of musicians who were the eight of us on the course: ‘Wherever you’re going after this’, he said, ‘you’ll be learning about Beethoven and Mozart and Bach and all the usual people – so I’ll teach you about all the others.’ Thus it was that we learned about Louis Couperin, Froberger, John Cage, Janacek, Martinu, Penderecki – and ‘all the sons of Bach you haven’t heard of’ including WF and JCF.

He brought in David Munrow’s Early Music Consort (of which he was a founder member) to give us a dazzling lecture/demonstration; he brought in his clavichord, which he demonstrated and let us play; he gave me piano lessons (Brahms and Mendelssohn – not the repertoire we would instantly associate with him); he organised mini-concert tours using whatever talents and personnel were available – I particularly remember playing at the various Village Colleges around Cambridge; and outside official hours he took us on jolly trips and picnics…

Happy days – lots more memories I could recall. We kept in touch over the years; as his meteoric rise took him ever further afield, he maintained his base in his lovely house in Cambridge (although my memories go back to the one before!). To the last, we would exchange Christmas cards – his always especially printed, elaborate and witty.

I’ve dug out this 35mm slide of Chris (standing at the back, in shades) and some of our PAM group on a picnic in 1969… It’s how I’ll remember him – the twinkle, the grin, the giggle – although he hardly changed over the years.

Farewell, Chris, and thank you for everything.

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Happy New Year!

January 14, 2014

After a busy Christmas and a nice quiet New Year, time to roll up the sleeves and get down to some challenges to kick off 2014.

Been doing some last-minute translations for a couple of recitals in a certain distinguished London recital hall, including an obscure set of songs to poems by the great 14th-century Italian poet, Petrarch.  Not wishing to boast (ahem) but I was quite pleased with my efforts:

Or che ’l ciel e la terra (Sonnet CXXXI)

Or che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace
E le fere e gli augelli il sonno affrena,
Notte il carro stellato in giro mena
E nel suo letto il mar senz’onda giace,
Veggio, penso, ardo, piango; e chi mi sface
Sempre m’è inanzi per mia dolce pena:
Guerra è ’l mio stato, d’ira et di duol piena,
Et sol di lei pensando ò qualche pace.
Così sol d’una chiara fonte viva
Move ’l dolce e l’amaro ond’io mi pasco;
Una man sola mi risana e punge;
E perché ’l mio martir non giunga a riva,
Mille volte il dí moro e mille nasco;
Tanto da la salute mia son lunge.

Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374)

Now that heaven and earth and the wind are silent
and the beasts and the birds are bound in sleep,
Night leads her starry chariot on its rounds
and the ocean lies waveless upon its bed,
I look, I think, I burn, I weep;  and she who is my undoing
is always before me in my sweet pain:
I am in a state of strife, full of anger and sorrow,
and only by thinking of her do I have some peace.
Thus from a single clear gushing spring
come both the sweetness and the bitterness I feed on;
one hand alone both heals and hurts me;
and so my torment never reaches its end,
a thousand times a day I die and a thousand times I am born,
so far am I from salvation.

English translation by Jonathan Burton (c) 2014

I’m still here

October 9, 2013

IMG_1036Having acquired some rather snazzy business cards publicising my WordPress blog site, I felt it would be only fair to post something informative on it  – my blogging activity having fallen by the wayside, thanks to the ease and instantaneity of Facebook… so here’s a quick update.

Recent projects:

Surtitles
Nino Rota’s Il cappello di paglia di Firenze for Wexford Festival Opera (hilarious!)
Berlioz – Roméo et Juliette for the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

Translations –
Songs for Elizabeth Watts recital in Bath
Richard Strauss songs for the Salmon Orchestra’s 50th birthday concert
Some interesting numbers for L’Arpeggiata at the Wigmore Hall

Programme notes –
English Chamber Orchestra concert on 9 October

Bassooning –
Invicta Wind Orchestra concert (including a featured contrabassoon solo!)
Salomon Orchestra 50th Birthday concert – contra in Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel and Shostakovich Symphony No. 7.  A quite amazing occasion

Coming soon:

Surtitles –
Another Roméo et Juliette for the LSO
Act II of Tristan und Isolde for the LSO
Weber’s Euryanthe for Chelsea Opera Group
Offenbach’s Fantasio for Opera Rara
…and bookings ahead into 2015, thanks to Chelsea Opera Group, the Philharmonia and the CBSO

Programme notes, etc. –
Programme note, synopsis and pre-performance talk on Weber’s Euryanthe (Chelsea Opera Group, 23 November at Cadogan Hall:  be there!)
Programme notes for ECO concerts in November and December
Article for The Royal Opera for a forthcoming programme book (no idea what it will say yet…)

Translations –
A large batch of songs for the Kirckman Concert Society

Bassooning –
Beethoven 5 (contra) for the Sussex Concert Orchestra
The Rehearsal Orchestra – Rheingold weekend conducted by David Syrus (can’t wait!)

So ‘retirement’ is a continuing to be busy and exciting experience!  And we love living here on the South Coast.

Will try to keep you all posted on this site…

For remembrance — Wessex Male Choir

November 10, 2012

A stirring song in remembrance of fallen heroes.  Please buy this track or the album — proceeds from every sale will go to the British Legion.

Thank you.

The Wessex Male Choir singing ‘Blades of Grass’. Profits from downloads of the track are being donated to the Royal British Legion. For more information about the Wessex Male Choir go to www.wessexmalechoir.co.uk

‘The foreign gentleman executes an air upon the Grand Piano’

June 4, 2012

Image

This is a scan of a rather faded print that hangs above my piano – found on a stall at Cambridge Market for 10p (‘Nice picture;  two bob?’) among a pile of Victorian generals, circa 1971.  Having just written an essay on Liszt (for Philip Radcliffe), I knew at once who it was.

The mount is labelled ‘London, Richard Bentley, 1843’.  The print was included in ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’ of 1848, but I suspect it was a Punch cartoon first.

The scrawly signature is not, as I first thought, ‘F Liszt’, but ‘J Leech’ – John Leech, prolific and well-known Punch cartoonist.

So… was Liszt in London in 1843?  Any thoughts on whose salon this might be (if not entirely fictional)?

Kenneth Hamilton — Brahms Unwrapped

March 15, 2012

Great experience last night at Kings Place – part of the Brahms Unwrapped season – our good friend Kenneth Hamilton playing (and talking about) Brahms’s piano music.  His introductions were illuminating, informative, irreverent and witty as always, his playing quite phenomenally accurate, virtuosic and powerful:  showing us Brahms in a whole new light.

Ken started with the first movement of Brahms’s astoundingly accomplished Sonata No. 3 in F minor, written when he was only 20;  Ken convincingly argued that the movement must have started as some kind of composition exercise based on J S Bach’s ‘Weinen, Klagen’ (with Purcellian descending chromatic bass line) in the same key.  He told us that the ‘grand ending’ of the movement implied that the audience would be expected to clap;  we duly did, and he said he would have been somewhat put out if we hadn’t.

Then he introduced the rest of this huge sonata – unusually in five movements in all – explaining that the remaining four movements hung together and told a story;  the second movement is prefaced by lines from a poem about ‘two hearts in love united’ – Ken demonstrated the ‘heartbeat’ – and Brahms’s melody fits the words so as to be almost a ‘Lied’ setting;  then there’s a stormy Scherzo, then a little movement called ‘Rückblick’ (‘backward glance’),  a minor-key version of the ‘two hearts’ number as a funeral march – ‘either the beloved is dead or their love is dead’, he said;  Ken pointed out the triplet drumbeat motive so beloved of Verdi and Mahler, which he traces back to a Mendelssohn Song Without Words.  Then a stormy finale using the ‘F A E’ theme which occurs elsewhere in his and his friends’ works – standing for ‘Frei aber einsam’, free but alone.  So the 20-year-old Brahms is writing programme music – ‘but we all know Brahms doesn’t write programme music!’  We don’t know who the story is about, he said, but we can follow the ‘trajectory’ of the story – two hearts that beat as one, dissension, breakup, Brahms ultimately reconciled to being alone.  Story of his life!  (And in the 3rd Symphony the theme becomes ‘F A F’ – ‘Frei aber froh’ – free but happy:  the confirmed bachelor.)

After the interval, we heard the last things Brahms wrote – three touching organ chorales, transcribed by Busoni.  Then a little gavotte by Gluck, arranged by Brahms as an encore piece for Clara Schumann.  Ken (authentically) proceeded to improvise a modulatory passage into the key of the next and final piece, the Handel Variations.  Absolutely riveting performance, clearly characterising the 20 or so miniature ‘mood pieces’ of the variations – including a couple of ‘Hungarian dances’ and a musical box imitation (instructed to be played with the sustaining pedal held down so that the music jangled; and its clockwork runs down at the end!).  Finally a massive and magisterial fugue, with a certain degree of pianistic sleight-of-hand but some genuinely complicated counterpoint as well.  One began to view Brahms with a new respect (well, I did, at least).  Ken’s performance rose to such heights of power and energy that he literally almost knocked himself out on the piano lid at the end (‘You’d think I’d know where it was by now’, he said).

And a pretty encore to send us home smiling.

Amazing evening.  Congratulations to Ken – I haven’t done anything like justice to his constantly revelatory comments, nor to  his ability to speak, illustrate and play with not a note (of words or music) in front of him.   Thank you to Diana for getting us the tickets – wouldn’t have missed it for anything – and to Carol for joining us and being so appreciative.  And for the dear friends we met in the audience (you know who you are!).

The John Myatt Memorial Concert

February 16, 2012

Click here for a great review of a great occasion:

The_John_Myatt_Memorial_Concert_reviewFeb12

Many thanks to Colin for the link (and for the concert!)

Béatrice et Bénédict – Chelsea Opera Group; Elizabeth Connell and Barefoot Opera

November 28, 2011

A wonderful musical weekend.  On Saturday, to Cadogan Hall for Chelsea Opera Group’s concert performance of Berlioz’s late opera, Béatrice et Bénédict.  (Thank you to the Berlioz Society for the discounted tickets!)  COG orchestra on sparkling form, conductor Nicholas Collon fantastic – precise, clear and engaged (grinning widely throughout the Overture!).  Chorus somewhat under strength but valiant.  Female soloists wonderful – Ana Maria Labin sang Héro with a lovely true soprano, Emma Carrington brought her luxuriously velvety mezzo to Ursule;  their duet at the end of Act I (delicious in matching dark blue dresses) was the musical highlight of the evening.  Liora Grodnikaite has come a long way since her days on the Jette Parker Young Artists’ Programme at the Royal Opera House;  she sang Béatrice (without a score) with wit, fire and musicality, her looks and gestures conveying a huge range of emotions including amusement, scorn, uncertainty and confusion.  A terrific performance.

Her Bénédict, Ben Johnson, paled somewhat in comparison, not least because he remained resolutely score-bound.  He sang very nicely, but there was no chemistry between the pair (one recalls Ann Murray and Philip Langridge at ENO all those years ago…).  Simon Lobelson and Adrian Clarke were luxury casting in the minor male roles.  Everyone’s sung French was excellent – a rare achievement.

The wise decision had been taken to ‘stage’ the concert with three actors performing a reduced version of the dialogue in English.  So we had Shakespeare interspersed with (uncredited but very witty) translations of Berlioz’s own additions to the text.  Unlike their singing counterparts, there was plenty of chemistry and flying sparks between Helen Ramsorrun and Sion Davies – both final-year GSMD students  (he should guard against dropping his voice, though – I didn’t always catch the words.)  Donald Maxwell doubled Léonato and the Notary, as well as doing all that could humanly done with the awful role (spoken and sung) of Somarone, the joke music master who writes joke bad music… oh dear.

Because the three actors covered several roles each, it wasn’t always easy to tell who was who or what on earth was going on.  A brave try, though.  Perhaps some of the dialogue could have been cut still further…

Nice that the format followed that of COG’s previous performance in 1981, conducted by Stephen Barlow (can that really have been 30 years ago?).  My only misgivings concern the piece:  dear Berlioz, bless him, can’t get his dramatic pacing right, and in Act I he never knows when to stop.  Apart from Bénédict’s Rondo, every number outstays its welcome (even the glorious nocturnal duet) – especially Somarone’s cod Epithalamion which isn’t funny anyway and which Berlioz insists on inflicting on us TWICE.  Aarrgghh!  And then Act II flashes past with undignified haste – the final duet seems over before it has begun. But all in all, a fine achievement for COG and a fun evening.

Then, on Sunday, a local jaunt to St Mary in the Castle in Hastings – a wonderful venue we hadn’t sampled before (thank you Lesley and Alistair for the heads-up).  Billed as a Gala Concert, the first half consisted of performances by members of Barefoot Opera, a new back-to-basics ensemble directed by Jenny Miller (whom I remember as a fine mezzo Cenerentola a while ago).  But they didn’t just stand and sing:  soloists appeared in different parts of the (circular) auditorium, moved among the audience, sang to each other, and generally brought their roles imaginatively to life.  Kudos particularly to the charismatic Krysia Mansfield, who not only sang Tippett and Borodin but even managed to be riveting while playing a non-singing Vitellia to Aino Konkka’s Sesto in Mozart’s ‘Parto, parto’ from La Clemenza di Tito.  (Even clarinettist Andrew Sparling – playing from memory – directed some of his obligato towards her, presumably in an attempt to soften her heart.)  Talking of which, more kudos to Andrew Sparling for putting down his clarinet and singing a weird and powerful Ravel song, ‘Les grands vents’. 

Other stars included Carleen Ebbs’ sparkling and fearless ‘Je veux vivre’ from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette – we reckoned we had heard it sung less well, to say the least, during the Cardiff Singer of the World week.  And Antoine Salmon, who may not possess the world’s most beautiful bass voice but was hilarious in Rossini’s ‘La calunnia’ and as Don Pasquale playing stooge to the Dr Malatesta of Nikos Penesis.  Not sure about the ensemble finale – a strange rewrite of Handel – but this seems to be part of a project they are working on.  All credit to Barefoot Opera – let’s hope we hear and see more of them.

Oh — and brava Nancy Cooley for her indefatigable accompanying!

For the second half, Elizabeth Connell took to the stage (is it ungallant to call her a ‘veteran soprano’?), accompanied by Stephen Rose.  She treated us to a hilarious résumé of her long and colourful life in opera, illustrated by knockout performances of Wagner (‘Dich teure Halle’), Mozart (‘Non più di fiori’ from La Clemenza di Tito), and Verdi (Lady Macbeth’s ‘La luce langue’.)  From low G to top B, her voice was big, true and thrilling.

She then gave us an outrageous ‘Diva Song’ written for her by Betty Roe and involving many changes of hats… I say no more,  You must try to see her for yourself.

Her encore was the immensely touching ‘When I have sung my songs to you’ by the American composer Ernest Chance. Not a dry eye in the house (even hers!).  A great lady and another great evening, rounding off a great weekend.

photo of Liza Connell (c) Clive Barda, borrowed from musicweb-international http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2008/Jul-Dec08/connell.htm

We shall remember them, 11/11/11

November 11, 2011


poppies-in-flanders.jpg

The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,
  There’s men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
  And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.
 
There’s chaps from the town and the field and the till and the cart,
  And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,
And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,
  And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.
 
I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell
  The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;
And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell
  And watch them depart on the way that they will not return.
 
But now you may stare as you like and there’s nothing to scan;
  And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told
They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
  The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

From A E Housman – A Shropshire Lad.  Housman’s poems were published in 1896 and referred to the Boer War, but they were seen as prophetic of the Great War, and many a soldier carried a copy into the trenches.

(I know I have posted this before, but we can never have too many reminders of what Remembrance means to us on this day.)

Here is a setting of this poem by George Butterworth (1885-1916), who died on the Somme. 

(Sung by Christopher Maltman, from a BBC Music Magazine CD):