Archive for the ‘wind music’ category

Southbank Sinfonia (twice)

March 14, 2008

sbs2.jpg The Southbank Sinfonia is a brilliant idea – a ‘semi-professional’ orchestra employing young instrumentalists between college and a professional career.  To judge by their list of alumni now in orchestral positions, it works.

The orchestra is the brainchild of conductor Simon Over.  It has no state funding (surprise surprise!) and is maintained by a large roster of generous supporters and huge amounts of goodwill, particularly through partnerships with ‘grown up’ orchestras such as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, who provide coaching, playing opportunities and ‘sit-ins’ alongside professional players.  And imaginative sponsors like accompanist Malcolm Martineau who provides free refreshments at concerts – hooray!

Monday’s concert was part of the lunchtime recital series at the Royal Opera House, though moved into the spacious (and echoey) surroundings of the Paul Hamlyn Hall (formerly the Floral Hall).  A slightly rum programme…

It began with a Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets, bravely performed without a conductor.  The soloists (Christopher Seddon and Rob Wallace) were two cool dudes to whom evidently nothing was a problem – they enjoyed every minute and played faultlessly, stationing themselves antiphonally either side of the band.

Two quibbles:  how could anyone think it’s OK to perform any kind of baroque concerto without a keyboard continuo??  Just because it ‘sort of’ works to have just a cello and bass accompanying the soloists, that doesn’t make it right.  And no, the slow movement is not just ‘a mere six bars long… a passage of modulation played by the strings alone’ – which is how they played it, earnestly and meaninglessly:  no, it’s the basis for something – keyboard improvisation?  Violin improvisation?  (Probably not the trumpets, as they need the rest.)  Something has to happen, and somebody has to take a decision about what.  Awful sinking feeling that STILL nobody in the music colleges is taught anything beyond the received nineteenth-century ways of playing things.

They need to read a certain series of helpful books…

The orchestra was joined by Australian soprano Anita Watson, a rising star in the ROH’s firmament and a radiant smiling presence (I previously enjoyed hearing her in Donizetti’s Rita – read more here).  Her choice of arias – Mozart’s ‘Nehmt meinen Dank’ and the ‘Et incarnatus’ from the C minor Mass, and Richard Strauss’s ‘Morgen’ – suited her to perfection.  Lovely violin solo in the Strauss, from leader Tatiana Byesheva.

In between Anita Watson’s items, Graham Sheen conducted his arrangement of five Danzas Gitanas by Joaquin Turina.  The rather vague programme note did not describe the individual movements or even tell us what forces Graham had arranged them for.  As far as I could see, it was a wind decet (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns) with extras – piccolo, cor anglais – plus two trumpets and a double bass.  Smashing arrangements, full of vivid colours and rhythmic life.  I slightly felt that the clarinets had a raw deal – perhaps because the trumpets had grabbed their share of the melodic interest?  Very nice anyway, and must have been great fun to play.  I hope they’ll be published.

And a definitely rum item to finish – Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs, but with no singer!  Hamlet without the Prince?  I am reliably informed that it was never intended that Anita Watson should sing these.  But they sounded distinctly ‘so-what’-ish in their orchestral guise.  Ah well.

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Then yesterday (Thursday) – (more…)

Bassoon reed gadget

January 10, 2008
light plaque

My friend Tom has acquired a gadget – invented in Finland – which enables you to light up your bassoon reed from INSIDE so that you can see how even or uneven your scraping is.  Follow these links for details (and cunning illustrations):

http://www.doublereed.fi/eng/main.html

http://www.reedmaker.com/lightp.html

My first reaction was ‘what a silly idea’ and ‘what an expensive toy’ (especially as Tom had to get it imported from the USA and pay customs duty on it), but he writes enthusiastically:

I put three reeds on that I had nearly given up on and could see EXACTLY where I had gone wrong and where the reed was uneven. A few very minor scrapes on the irregular bits and I transformed two of them and the other is no longer a no hoper.

Anyone else have any experience of this marvellous device??  I’d certainly be glad to be able to scrape more effectively without wrecking my reeds before they have had an active life…
(It’s available for oboe reeds too.)

picture from Chris Van Os Double Reeds at http://www.kv191.nl/ — thanks

thanks to Tom Hardy http://www.tomhardybassoon.com/

Merry Christmas audio!

December 16, 2007

[click on this link, or on the PLAY button below]

Different Carols (c) Jonathan Burton 2007

Here is a slightly bumpy computer-fairground-organ version of my Christmas Card arrangements, courtesy of Sibelius Kontakt Silver…

Happy listening!  It’s about eleven minutes long (sorry it isn’t divided into eight tracks).  See previous blog entry for details.

You may have to try it a few times and/or pause it a bit to let the downloading catch up with itself!  Technology, eh.

Many thanks to Gillian and David for the mulled wine and mince pies!  And to the other nine players last Wednesday, particularly Lysander for stepping into the breach at the last minute.  (Hilary, please get well soon.)

Once again, a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS to all our listeners…

Merry Christmas Card!

December 13, 2007

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Here’s my 2007 Christmas Card!

It’s the first two pages of the (39-page) score of my Christmas carol arrangements for ten wind players – we’re still arguing about whether the word is ‘Decet’ or Dectet’ – which received their triumphant premiere play-through last night, to the accompaniment of mulled wine and mince pies.

There are eight movements:

1 – The Mediaeval One (Gaudete)
2 – The Basque one (Atoz, atoz)
3 – The French one (Il est né, le divin enfant)
4 – The Old English one (The Coventry Carol)
5 – The One About The Holly (from Cornwall)
6 – The Other French one (Nous voici dans la ville)
7 – The Other Mediaeval One (The Boar’s Head Carol)
8 – The Very Traditional One (Dies natalis tibi felicitatis)

No. 8 is actually a joke – it was Grahame (the 1st flute)’s birthday…

Now my challenge is to find a way to (a) convert the score into a sound file, and (b) put it on here for your delight!

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Parry: Nonet

November 6, 2007

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 On Sunday afternoon (somewhat the worse for wear after driving 400+ miles to Bradford and back for a quintet gig and a curry – thanks, Jo T – but that’s another story) I joined some friends for a play-through of the Nonet in B flat by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918).  Not sure whose idea this was, or who had the music;  it’s scored for a slightly unusual wind combination of flute, oboe, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns.  (Why?)

First impression was of an effective, well-written, energetic and colourful work, often in Parry’s vein of heroic maestoso familiar from Jerusalem, I Was Glad and Blest Pair of Sirens, but not descending into bombast, over-long in places but interestingly put together, with cyclic use of themes (the Scherzo has the same tune as the first movement, the last movement recycles themes from all the previous ones).  He’d been listening to Wagner, too – one ‘Tarnhelm’ chord shift straight out of Rheingold…

I didn’t know the piece, and didn’t have a chance to look at the blurb in the score, so can’t tell you much about it.  The most obvious influence seemed to be Richard Strauss – the most directly comparable work (in the same key) being Strauss’s early Suite in B flat, Op. 4;   but – and this is the most surprising fact about the Parry – this can’t have been an influence, as the Parry dates from 1877, seven years before the Strauss.  (Could the 20-year-old Strauss have heard the Parry?  No.  Although Parry was 29 when he wrote it, he was pretty well still unknown at the time, certainly outside England — and the Nonet was never performed in his lifetime.)

There’s a recording of the piece on Hyperion.  If I can track it down perhaps it will tell me more.  An interesting find.

We also (more…)

Harmoniemusik at St Gabriel’s

October 11, 2007

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Janna Hüneke, flute
Sarah Devonald, oboe
Mark Lacey, clarinet
Geoffrey Pearce, horn
Alec Forshaw, bassoon
Paul Guinery, piano

I have known, and played with, members of the wind-based group Harmoniemusik for a long time – in the case of Alec, the bassoonist, for longer than I care to recall (39 years, I guess).  So I always try to get to their concerts if I can.  Last night’s was at another venue new to me – St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico.  It was part of The Seven Series, a series of… er… seven concerts, featuring ‘a mixture of established professionals and some of the most exciting new talent of today’.  Not quite sure how Harmoniemusik fits in to this – ‘exciting old talent’ perhaps?  (sorry!)  The semi-pro (or semi-amateur) group was founded in 1991 after playing together on board a Mediterranean cruise ship, and has recently given concerts in France, Belgium and Germany, as well a regular gig in Cornwall.  They have just released their second CD.

Large Victorian churches are not the most suitable places for chamber music – tending to be cavernous, echoey, COLD!, uncomfortable, and lacking good sightlines;  if, as in this case, you have two rows of pews with a wide central aisle, there is nowhere from which anyone can have a decent view of the whole ensemble.  However, this was part of ‘Gabriel Arts’, an umbrella set-up based on the church, evidently with an enthusiastic local audience;  peripheral attractions included wine, cheese and an art exhibition (buy now or leave a sealed bid…).

The concert kicked off with Bozza’s Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit – one of those wispy French pieces difficult to bring off with non-French players, but they did a fine and evocative job.  Then Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Wind, K452, which Mozart himself thought ‘the best work I have ever written’, and it is certainly a sublime treat.  Pianist was Paul Guinery, better known as one of the voices of BBC Radio 3.  A heart-warming performance, with tempi that felt just right – not too slow, none of that snail-on-a-piece-of-elastic catching up at recapitulations.  Lovely wind solos, fine piano playing;  a word, too, for the piano, a hundred-year-old Steinway with a soft but carrying tone that almost sounded as if it could have been a Viennese fortepiano of Mozart’s day.

The second half (more…)

Divided loyalties, mixed feelings

August 26, 2007

Decisions, decisions… This week I had to decide between the Proms (using my season ticket) or the RPO Summer Serenade series at Cadogan Hall.  Having started the week on a terrific high with the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra prom (which ended with the kids doing a conga around the stage, wearing Venezuelan football shirts and twirling their instruments in the air while the audience rose to its feet and cheered), and a fine (but not roof-raising) account of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, I opted for some calm and civilised chamber music at Cadogan Hall.

Turned out to be a slightly low-key experience — everyone in the world (including all my friends, and even my colleagues who work at the Hall) were either on holiday (or on honeymoon, in one case) or at the Albert Hall or otherwise occupied, so the audiences were distinctly thin on the ground.

Tuesday was Mozart wind music — the C minor Serenade (what a fantastic piece) and the ’13 Wind’, which is lovely but does go on too long.  My initial feeling was that these were orchestral players not used to playing chamber music — they hadn’t realised how quietly they could, or should, play.  I didn’t recognise any of the players, which was unusual for me, apart from John Anderson on first oboe and David Chatterton on contrabassoon (not as authentic as a double bass would have been, but it was a great sound — up through the floorboards — and we contra players must stick together!). 

Wednesday (more…)