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Posted by norman lebrecht

From our diarist, Anthea Kreston:


Today I am flying to Aarlborg, Denmark from Munich. It was easier for our family to drive up from the Dolomites, stay together one night in Munich and for them to continue driving up to Berlin while I fly from Munich. 

We enjoyed our breakfast buffet in Munich (I was later so happy to have “packed” a cheese and red pepper sandwich from the breakfast, after I paid a painful 8 Euros for a water and black coffee at the airport), I walked them to the car, said goodbye for two days, and hunkered down at the hotel to practice until the cleaning people banged down my door and demanded I leave. 

I put my practice mute on and started from the most dangerous spots of the quartet concert repertoire for tomorrow. I was only able to practice until 11:35, but I got the basics down – 5 times slowly through my hardest 6 sections, tuning some tricky bits, and a playthrough of a finger-twister of a scherzo by Schumann (love that guy, but man oh man that stuff just wasn’t made for a stringed instrument! Clara – you could have thrown us a bone here!).

I headed to the S-bahn, taking it to the airport, hoping to go standby on the 14:05 through Amsterdam which would get me to Aarlborg by 17:05. I would love a leisurely dinner in Denmark followed by a long walk and another practice session!  But, the stars were not in my favor and I faced the better part of the next 6 hours inside the airport. 

I went through security and started my survey of the area. In the States, you can always find a way to plug yourself in – they have random outlets here and there – by the bathrooms, by the counters, in little kiosks. But not here – it is like they scrubbed the area of any way of stealing a couple of % for my myriad of electronic obsessions. 

But – I have a keen eye, and time was on my side. I looked high and low – and found one, slightly gimpy outlet tucked behind a row of chairs. Now I quickly staked out my territory – plugging in, dragging over something that would suffice as an ottoman, and spreading my stuff all over the adjoining chairs as to make it extremely unattractive to sit near me. Paradise. And – to make it even better – I am next to a row of huge windows and can enjoy a sunbath – and the coffee place is within eye range of my seat (no way am I going to give up the only outlet in this entire area!).

So – now what?  5 1/2 hours to go.  Settle in. I started with a number of obsessively detailed (and, I am fully aware, bound to be ignored) lists to my husband of everything he could do at the house and what I need packed or done while he is home for that 36 hours.  When I packed my backpack a couple of weeks ago I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be returning home before heading to the States, so anything that gets into a suitcase is in Jason’s already full hands. 

Then I moved on to answering important emails (we are turning around our Oregon vacation home for a new renter – scheduling carpet and upholstery cleaning, lawn care, ordering all new linens and towels to be delivered to my friend who watches the house, signing and sending the new lease, having the gutters repaired and garage door undented), checking on our bank and credit cards in the states and our retirement and utility payments, making travel and car rental plans for our upcoming trip to the States, dealing with quartet and university details, reading every single article on today’s NYT app, then eventually moving on to  stale Whatsapp messages, and finally to end in the black hole of Facebook. 

Eyes smarting from lack of blinking/moisture guided me towards the first of my rejuvenating caffeine infusions, as I nervously eyed my prized plug, even choosing the slow line to stay close, ready to shoo off any circling buzzards. 8 euros later, water and black coffee (surrounded by about 1 million creamers) balancing on my tray (this will help my general slovenly plan for my claimed area), I settle down for a nice, long Google Calendar session, triangulating quartet, personal, university, kindergarten/2nd grade, and Jason’s orchestra schedule with a tidy, notification-filled and color-coded family calendar (quintupleating?).  Feels like I just went to the dentist for a full go-around. A minty-fresh family calendar! I unwrapped my stolen sandwich from this morning’s breakfast buffet, and slid down, iPad-pro and iphone double plugged and propped up for a nice long meaningless entertainment session. 

But wait – I don’t even have earphones. Ok – I can be more productive here. Email the manager for the most up-to-date official quartet calendar (through 2019), and update the website. I usually do this on my Mac laptop, but I can try on the IPad Pro.  The only problem – this website is oldschool. Luckily, I taught myself HTML (coding language) about 17 years ago – remember when we had to build our websites from the ground up, the 6 digit color code, the <tr> and <b> etc – one mis-type and your whole site ends up disappearing or stretching super long and thin and being the color of over-ripe eggplant?  But, as I try to cut-and-paste the calendar code (each calendar entry is about 16 lines long of code, relating to font, location, content, and a specific order in order to bounce to the proper location on the website, and it has to be done twice – once in English and once in German), I realize that my IPad Pro won’t copy and paste in the Source page. I take a photo of the code with my phone, retype the whole code in notes, and try to copy past into the source.  No how, no way. 

Oh well, I guess I will just have to be unproductive. A call comes in from Jason – they are at a rest stop and he wants the girls to be able to watch a Lego movie for the last leg. How to get the stick to work, select the right program to play the pirated copy of the movie (I am a bit of a tech nerd – not that I am good at it, but suffice it to say that I won’t be paying for watching Game of Thrones this week, and that I can’t wait to replace Jason’s cracked iPhone screen when we get to Washington).

Ok – the dilemma – continue reading my Leonardo Da Vinci biography (really great read – and thank you, Amy Yang, for my gift of the self-winding Da Vinci-invented wall clock you bought for me in Venice), study my German, or buy earphones and try to (somehow) make the teeniest headway in digging myself out of years of being behind at shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, the Americans, Transparent, Girls, and Game of Thrones.  It’s nearly impossible to have a decent conversation with an American teenager these days – I scrape by on years-old Westeros news. Oh boy am I behind schedule here! Talking about any of the three Baratheon-Lancaster children will only illicit scoffs – that is so last year – Get it together, Girl!

One more over-priced coffee, and the cheapest ear buds put me into utter joy as I watch an episode of “Orange is the New Black” in 6 minute increments, bookended by having to re-up my free airport wireless. Pure Joy!

But wait – my flight is delayed.  They are asking for volunteers and saying only one carry-on – I head to the new gate, ready to check my small backpack and hold on to dear life my beloved Testore violin (1710), carrying my iPad Pro in my hand, my pockets overstuffed with wallet, passport, and other vitals (that second stolen sandwich making my gait slightly uncomfortable).  

I hope I can make my second leg from Amsterdam to Aarlborg. If not, tonight I will be attempting a work-around for Game of Thrones from an airport hotel in Amsterdam! 

Post-note – arrived safely last night in Spokane after 5 flights, all terribly close connections. We missed America – went out to pancakes this morning, then to Goodwill, and spent the afternoon swimming in a lake….


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Posted by norman lebrecht

Opera Connecticut President Rowna Sutin presents THE AMERICAN OPERA IDOL award to AOI 2017 winner Andrés Moreno García.

Andres has been accepted as a member of the international opera studio at Staatsoper Unter den Linden for the coming two seasons.

He’s from Monterrey, in Mexico.


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Posted by Jessica

'In sooth, I know not why I am so sad...' Antonio goes to the shrink.
All photos by Johan Persson, courtesy of WNO

When I was 14 I went to a piano recital I've never forgotten. It was by a Polish pianist who had escaped the Soviet bloc and settled in Oxfordshire. He was a friend of my piano teacher, who said I simply had to go and hear this astonishing musician. A gentle figure, bearded and sympathetic, he played with a soft, persuasive tone, filled above all with love for the music, especially Chopin - I can still hear its atmosphere now. We went backstage, shook his hand, thanked him; he was kind to the music-mad schoolgirl I was at the time. About two years later he died of cancer, aged only 42. His name was André Tchaikowsky.

Unknown to me at the time, Tchaikowsky (or Czajkowski, assumed instead of his real name, which was Krauthammer) was a composer as well. His magnum opus, a piece that obsessed him for the last 25 years or so of his life, was an opera based on The Merchant of Venice. Having endured a traumatic wartime childhood that entailed escaping the Warsaw Ghetto and more (Anastasia Belina-Johnson's hair-raising account of his story in the opera programme is well worth a read if you can get hold of it - see also the trailer for the documentary above), Tchaikowsky had more than a vested interest in Shakespeare's story of prejudice and revenge on the Rialto.

The opera was almost finished at the time he died, but had been rejected - to his immense disappointment - by ENO. It was one of the team for whom he had played it, director David Pountney, who homed in on it a few years back and finally put on the world premiere at the Bregenz Festival in 2013; he then programmed it also at Welsh National Opera. The other day, WNO brought it to the Royal Opera House for a London premiere and last night I went to see it.

Lester Lynch as Shylock
The reality is that it's a mixed bag. It contains seriously strong moments. It also possibly needed more editing (I suspect one could lose at least 15 minutes without damaging the fabric) - and a more straightforward staging than Keith Warner presents, a little truer to the spirit of the original Shakespeare, perhaps would not hurt it either. The best music and drama emerges after the interval in the courtroom scene, when Shylock and Portia's speeches provide the opportunity for some heartfelt, probing exploration and genuinely emotional expression - which culminates in Portia's demolition of Shylock. He eventually collapses to lie insensible at the front of the stage; and the anguished orchestral interlude which follows seemed to enter more deeply into his state of mind than most of the word setting in the rest.

The overarching musical style is of its time, with very busy orchestral writing mostly in atonal, bubbling, chattering, occasionally bumbling strands that make life interesting in the wind section, but rarely, in the first half, settle into anything clearly shaped. The coalescence and concentration of the string writing after the interval helps to lift act 3 to another level - and the orchestra was in splendid form, cogently conducted by Lionel Friend.

A strong cast delivered the piece with enormous commitment and often relish. Lester Lynch's warm and eloquent baritone was a fine fit for Shylock and the soprano Sarah Castle made much of Portia as an imperious, exceptionally cruel character, precise in tone and able to cut splendidly across the sometimes frenetic orchestra. Mark Le Brocq was outstanding as Bassanio, but his friend Antonio, in the person of the counter-tenor Martin Wölfel, had a more challenging time with a role that does not sound sympathetically written for its voice type. Lauren Michelle and Bruce Sledge did all they could with the ungrateful roles of the ungrateful Jessica [not really my namesake - JD] and the more than vaguely unpleasant Lorenzo: plenty of hard-driven singing, but little character development.

Keith Warner's production accentuates the fact that the play is about prejudice on every level: the anti-Semitism that has followed Shylock all his life and drives him to seek an unconscionable revenge; the failure of anybody to recognise in the accomplished "doctor of law" the figure of Portia, an actual woman (plus Nerissa as her clerk); and the racial digs at Portia's unfortunate first two suitors, with whom Warner seeks temporarily to lighten the mood in the Belmont maze, if with a bit of a sledgehammer.

Martin Wölfel (Antonio) and Mark Le Brocq (Bassanio)
Tchaikowsky has homed in, furthermore, on a gay understrand between Antonio and Bassanio. Warner amplifies this by hinting at a parallel scenario for Portia and Nerissa, but also confuses things by introducing some rambunctious humping for Portia and Bassanio almost the moment he has picked the lead casket - something not only out of character for them in the play but also for the opera, which is costumed and set (with designs by Ashley Martin-Davis) in the fin-de-siècle era. That setting extends to opening and closing tableaux in which Antonio is on a couch talking to Dr Freud. The issue of racial prejudice is taken even further by having the Jewish characters portrayed by black singers.

It's tempting to feel that Warner has used that sledgehammer a bit too often to crack this complex walnut of a work. But there is good sense as well. Although it is the anti-Semitic victimisation of Shylock that emerges as agonising front-runner in this battle of the prejudices, Tchaikowsky and Warner alike wisely avoid adding or subtracting from Shakespeare's approach to it. Hideousness is present on both sides; judgment is not passed. These attacks each feed the other's poison. This is how it is. And was. And probably ever shall be.

So - it's not perfect. It's true, at heart, to the play and its complexities. It's also a lifetime's work that needed its creator's existence not to be cut short in the process. But it's good, extremely good, to have it on the stage at all. Plaudits to all who have made it live at last.

Enjoy JDCMB? Please support its year of development, here: https://www.gofundme.com/jdcmb

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Posted by norman lebrecht

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is taking a financial hit on a Proms in the Castle at Powderham on Sunday July 30. The event was cancelled after its promoter Stephen C Associates Ltd went into liquidation on Wednesday.

Aside from not receiving its hire fee, the BSO will refund concertgoers who bought directly from the orchestra. That’s lose-lose.

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Martin Wölfel, Mark Le Brocq - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Martin Wölfel, Mark Le Brocq - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
André Tchaikowsky The Merchant of Venice; Martin Wölfel, Lester Lynch, Sarah Castle, Mark Le Brocq, Verena Gunz, David Stout, Lauren Michelle, Bruce Sledge, dir: Keith Warner, cond: Lionel Friend; Welsh National Opera at the Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The complex, dramatic and large-scale, Polish/British composer André Tchaikovsky's magnum opus in its first London performances

Welsh National Opera (WNO) brought its production of André Tchaikowsky's The Merchant of Venice to Covent Garden (we caught the second of two performances, 20 July 2017) with Lionel Friend conducting the WNO Orchestra, and the production directed by Keith Warner with designs by Ashley Martin-Davis. Antonio was Martin Wölfel, Mark Le Brocq was Basanio, David Stout as Gratiano, Lester Lynch was Shylock, Bruce Sledge was Lorenzo, Sarah Castle was Portia and Verena Gunz was Nerissa. The production was first given in Bregenz in 2013, and WNO presented it in Autumn 2016 as part of its Shakespeare 400 celebrations.

André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) was a Polish pianist and composer who, after a harrowing childhood in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw during the war (his mother was interned and murdered in Treblinka), Tchaikovsky studied in both Paris and Warsaw, developing a career as a concert pianist and composer though composition was something of a holiday activity. His output was small and his opera The Merchant of Venice is very much his magnum opus. Tchaikowsky left Poland and settled in the UK, and the opera is written to an English libretto by John O'Brien.

Despite some interest from English National Opera, the piece was never performed during Tchaikowsky's lifetime. It very much joins the works by other emigre composers such as Karl Rankl's Deirdre of the Sorrows, and Berthold Goldschmidt's Beatrice Cenci, which failed to find favour in the UK, though one would have anticipated that 1980s London might have been a bit more sympathetic to Tchaikowsky's style.

Verena Gunz, David Stout, Mark Le Brocq, Sarah Castle - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Verena Gunz, David Stout, Mark Le Brocq, Sarah Castle - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
The opera is a large scale piece, three acts and an epilogue lasting three hours, including interval, and written for a huge orchestra including triple woodwind plus basset horn, seven percussion players and timpani, and an off-stage banda.Tchaikowsky's writing is very orchestral, not only in the way he uses substantial interludes, but the vocal lines are very much part of the orchestral texture. On first hearing it was not so much motifs and melodies which stuck in the mind as colours and textures. This is very advanced writing and all the vocal parts were complex and challenging, this was a large piece with lots of tricky notes and it received a superb performance.

Act One in Venice was all darkness, with Keith Warner's restless production mirroring the music, the set constantly in motion. John O'Brien's libretto seemed to include as much as possible and the result seemed at times a little too wordy, too full of incident. It did not help that Warner's production and Ashley Martin-Davis's designs set the work in the early 20th century with all the men almost interchangeable in their dark suits. Who were all these people popping up? The text seemed relatively unfiltered, so that with some phrases we needed to consider the surtitles before fully comprehending what Shakespeare intended; not ideal in an opera.

Two characters really stood out. The depressive, homosexual Antonio (very much the composer's self portrait), sung by counter-tenor Martin Wölfel and given some of the opera's most lyrical music, and the Jewish money lender Shylock, given a remarkable, intense performance by Lester Lynch (who is black, which added interesting layers to the opera's exploration of prejudice). Belmont in Act Two was lighter, but rather than warm lyricism we seemed to get comedy.

Despite its dark subject matter, The Merchant of Venice has some of Shakespeare's most warmly lyrical verse, yet Tchaikowsky's setting seemed to be determinedly anti-lyrical. There was some ebb and flow to his word setting, but again and again I found the word setting a bit knotted  and overall he seemed to treat the voices as instruments. You kept coming back to other operas written in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, notably Britten's late masterpieces and Tippett's operas, where complexity is combined with a lyricism and a feeling for the voice. Tchaikovsky's certainly didn't do ear-worms, but nor did he do expressionist motifs which might help inform the listener.

André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
The trial scene formed the powerful climax of the opera, and it was here that Tchaikowsky's style seemed to pay off with the stark intensity of the piece. Lester Lynch's performance here was towering, matched by that of Sarah Castle as Portia who transformed from the brittle society heiress in Act Two to a fearsome legal eagle. Yet here, as throughout the piece, Warner's production also brought out the prejudice which informed everyone's attitudes, even to Castle's Portia shying away from a proper greeting to Jessica (Lauren Michelle), Shylock's daughter, in Act Two.

The Epilogue was something of an anticlimax, Tchaikowsky rather dallied too long in the love music without quite ravishing the ear, and we had far too much of Portia and Nerissa's games with the rings. This swift verbal word-play was not Tchaikovsky's forte and it seemed clunky, particularly after the powerful trial scene.

Lester Lynch - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Lester Lynch - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Mark Le Brocq did wonders with the high-wire tenor writing of the role of Bassanio, but the opera never really got us close to Bassanio the man, whilst David Stout made light of the difficulties of Gratiano's annoyingly lively style. The supporting roles were all strong, Salerio and Solanio were turned into a double-act of paparazzi by Simon Thorpe and Gary Griffiths.

I am pleased to have heard the piece, and the performance as a whole was outstanding with Lionel Friend and the WNO Orchestra conjuring wonderful textures from the complexity of Tchaikowsky's orchestral writing. All the vocal performances were similarly outstanding, making light of this tricky and taxing music.

Quite whether the opera will be more generally taken up, I am not sure. I can't help feeling that a slightly less reverential treatment of Tchaikowsky's score might help, and that it could be very helpfully trimmed.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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Garsington Opera - Silver Birch rehearsals Sam Furness with the community chorus (Photo John Snelling)
Garsington Opera - Silver Birch rehearsals Sam Furness with the community chorus (Photo John Snelling)
Roxanna Panufnik (Photo John Snelling)
Roxanna Panufnik (Photo John Snelling)
Roxanna Panufnik's new opera, Silver Birch, is a commission from Garsington Opera and it will be premiered on 28 July 2017 at Garsington Opera with performers combining professional singers and instrumentalists with over 180 people from the local community aged 8 to 80. Students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid will perform as dancers, singers, actors and instrumentalists alongside the professionals. 

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Posted by Timothy Green

Katie Bickham



Early in the morning, I ghosted 
into the white tile bathroom, stripped—
even my jewelry—

drove myself to vomit, spit, 
and defecate, shook out the ounces of my breath,
and took my weight. I avoided my crooked

reflection in the silver towel rack.
The worst days, I pondered quarters
of pounds harbored in my tonsils and my hair.

Eighteen summers, I silently mined
my body, seeking the fossil
of my skeleton inside me.

My mother watched me swallow
syruped squares of French toast.
She knew and didn’t know.

My death dangled on the edge
of every conversation,
a desperate drop on a cup’s rim. 

Humans facing death in youth
try to swallow everything, cry injustice, 
make wishes, hold their breath.

Dogs refuse food. When Sophie,
our Labrador, faced her end too soon,
my mother crawled beside her

with warm beef stew and my soft 
baby spoon. The dog died,


I walked down the aisle with whale bones
circling my ribcage. I pictured the whale
vomiting Jonah onto the beach.

I had never purged in church
until that day. God was alive 
in those years and I knew

he saw me, corseted,
flowers fastened in my hair,
and looked away.

My husband tells me years later
the horror
of my torso from the room’s other end.

I feel proud,
but do not 
say it.


My doe-eyed mutt stands in the corner 
of the bathroom, watching me heave
my whole life into the toilet

on all fours. I suspect she’s always thought
we were the same—that I was
just another sort of dog

until this moment. She knows now,
I am a different animal entirely:
a creature dragging back

to its own ooze, a broken beast, rotten
with a sickness she can smell. And she
can’t tell a soul. 

After I’ve scrubbed my hand,
my weak teeth, I kneel again
and pat my knee.

Because she is a dog, she comes quickly
and fills my palms with her heavy head.
Starving, I let her love me.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]


Katie Bickham: “Eating disorder is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, and I have been wrestling with it for over a decade now. Disordered eating is one of the strangest mental illnesses, because it’s one that the sufferer almost always wants to have on some level. I’ve often felt addicted to anorexia and bulimia, strangely happy with the havoc they wreak on my body, hesitant to lay them aside and ‘grow.’ The strangest part of it is that I’m a feminist and support a woman’s control over her body and reject male-driven beauty norms. But still, I fight to shrink, to disappear. Then one day, a new therapist who I went to see when there was nothing left to do but die told me something that seemed to throw everything into reverse. She said, ‘You deserve to take up space in the world.’ That same week, I started graduate school and work on my first book of poems. I have grown—in every sense—but the desire is always there waiting.” (website)

In Search Of Ruth Gipps

Jul. 20th, 2017 08:53 pm
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Posted by Corymbus

Ruth Gipps. Shared with the permission of Lance Baker.

holsthousezoom      By Simon Brackenborough

On a concert poster from 1931 is a photograph of a young girl. She calmly smiles while holding a cat, a picture of domestic innocence. Below her run the words ‘CHILD PIANIST AND COMPOSER-AGE 10’. This musical prodigy will perform a Haydn concerto, alongside some of her own compositions.

The striking image features in Jill Halstead’s book Ruth Gipps: Anti-Modernism, Nationalism And Difference in English Music. Born in 1921, Gipps went on to become a concert pianist, composer, conductor, orchestral oboist, and music teacher, before her death in 1999.

Yet go in search of Ruth Gipps today, and you mostly find a legacy of absence. CD racks run seamlessly from Gershwin to Glass. Most of her compositions are not available on commercial recordings. Halstead’s excellent study, the outcome of scholarly research and her own correspondence with the composer, is seldom seen on bookshelves.

I first discovered Ruth Gipps (pronounced with a ‘hard’ G) while browsing a YouTube channel that features uploads of old broadcast recordings. Though the sound quality was far from perfect, the music immediately stood out: emotionally direct, memorably melodic, expertly crafted. I was amazed that I had not heard her name before.

From the very beginning gender forms a pattern of difference in Gipps’ story. Struggle for recognition in a man’s world is a main theme, but as Halstead’s book shows, the role that womanhood played in her life was also more nuanced and complicated.

Beside talent, one advantage that the young Gipps enjoyed was an ideal musical environment. Born into a family of musicians, her mother Hélène, a larger-than-life Swiss pianist, ran Bexhill School Of Music from their home. Perhaps equally important, she was also an unusually powerful female role model, the ‘undisputed head of the Gipps family’, and main financial provider.

By the age of two, Ruth insisted on being called ‘Widdy’ – later simply ‘Wid’ – a name that stuck for life. It was an early omen of a determined personality.

The young Gipps’ talents proved exceptional when she began piano lessons. Performing from the age of five, she astonished audiences. Music for her simply seemed to be a way of being:

I had known all along of course that playing piano was my job; the first concert merely confirmed it. But I also knew without a shadow of a doubt, although I had not yet written anything, that I was a composer. Not that I wanted to be a composer – that I was one.

And so it came to pass. At age eight, her piano piece The Fairy Shoemaker won competitions, and was even published. By ten she had a regular performing schedule in the south east of England, by fourteen she was composing a piano concerto.

Gipps’ journey into adulthood is littered with stellar achievements. Entering the Royal College of Music at sixteen, she took up the oboe as a second instrument, progressing from complete beginner to professional standard in only a few years. In composition, she won various College prizes, including for her first symphony. Her symphonic poem Knight In Armour was chosen by Sir Henry Wood for the last night of the Proms in 1942.

But the smile of the girl on the poster masked a less happy story. Hélène brought up her children with an unusual degree of independence, treating them as equals, which – alongside her extraordinary talents – meant the young Gipps had difficulties fitting in at school. Initially she was one of a handful of girls in a school of mostly boys, but found no solidarity there. ‘They made my life a misery’ she said, ‘in all the small ways known to little girls with an odd one among them’.

With the boys, however, she was much happier. Consequently, a later move to a girl’s school proved disastrous. The physical and emotional bullying – from staff as well as pupils – was so horrific that Gipps was eventually given permission to leave at age twelve. Such early isolation from her peers, Halstead writes, would go on to breed ‘a particular kind of self-sufficiency’ but with a high emotional cost, creating ‘a deep rooted sense of alienation and defensiveness’. Gipps’ self-defined outsider status would develop into a mentality that attack was the best form of defence.

Her arrival at the Royal College of Music was a chance for a fresh start. But while she was a provincial Wunderkind, Gipps discovered that her piano playing was no longer so exceptional here. Her self-esteem tied up in childhood adulation, this was a blow to confidence which, combined with a long-term hand injury, gradually drew her away from the path of a concert pianist.

Ruth Gipps at age 20. Shared with the permission of Lance Baker.

However the relationships she formed at this time were crucial. Gipps became engaged to the clarinettist Robert Baker at age 19, marrying him in 1942. As he was called up to the RAF for the war effort, they spent much of the first years of marriage apart. At the same time, a friendship with a young conductor called George Weldon proved pivotal. When he was appointed to the City of Birmingham Orchestra (later the CBSO), he secured her a full-time oboe position.

Furthermore, this friendship enabled Gipps to have the orchestra showcase her other talents, a chance she seized on with unapologetic enthusiasm. In one 1945 concert, she was both the soloist in Glazunov’s piano concerto and played the oboe in her own first symphony. This led to a perception of favouritism which began to ruffle feathers in the orchestra; their closeness aroused suspicion, with rumours that they were having an affair. While there is no indication that this was true, such was the growing hostility that Gipps was eventually forced out.

In 1947, while seven months pregnant with her son Lance, Gipps passed an exam for a doctorate in music, completing the degree with a cantata, The Cat, the following year. Around this time, Weldon recommended her for the job of chorus master to the City of Birmingham Choir. This involved rehearsing the choir for concerts, and she took to it with characteristic flair, discovering a love for conducting that would go on to define her career.

Seeing her clear abilities in this new role, and sensing her growing ambition, even the supportive Weldon began to feel uneasy, complaining that ‘one day you will want to conduct symphonies’. He seems to have summed up the conflicted attitudes to women conductors at the time, and Halstead’s analysis of the gender politics in this period, drawing on the work of the scholar Lucy Green, is particularly fascinating. ‘When conducting work stood within the parameters of ‘enabling’ it could be encouraged, as it seemed a natural extension of woman’s role as nurturer’. As a chorus master, or conductor of a youth orchestra, women could ‘enable’ some later musical goal, but a woman conducting professional concerts – embodying the ultimate authority on stage – was another matter.

Gipps was characteristically undeterred. But securing work would prove difficult. In 1955 she applied for an assistant role at BBC Midland, only to be told that a woman could not command the respect of the orchestra. ‘Any woman taking to the podium has to confront all these negative notions of feminine distractiveness’, Halstead writes, ‘while also negotiating a traditionally male space’. When conducting opportunities did come Gipps’ way, her approach in the early years could be provocative – where other women might have played down their femininity, she deliberately cultivated a stage persona with eye-catching dresses.

Gipps the conductor. Shared with permission of Lance Baker.

Gipps’ eventual solution was simple: she would set up her own ensemble. Having now moved back to London, the One Rehearsal Orchestra – later named the London Repertoire Orchestra – was designed to help musicians at the start of their careers to improve their sight-reading, addressing the common challenge of performing unfamiliar works at short notice. A very practical initiative, it was both an enabling role for musicians, but also for her – now she could finally conduct regularly. She led the orchestra for 31 years.

Further to this, when her husband came into an inheritance, Gipps was able to found the London Chanticleer Orchestra in 1961. This professional body later received Arts Council funding, and performed with up-and-coming soloists, including a young Julian Lloyd Webber.

But running her own orchestras would turn out to be both a blessing and a curse. While it allowed her complete control, it also increasingly isolated her from mainstream musical life. Gipps’ concerts received relatively little attention from the press. A sad and damning illustration of this came in the 1980s, when the music critic Keith Potter mused on the fact he had never seen a review of her work as conductor or composer:

A full examination of the implications of this would very likely lead to a survey of the whole way our cultural scheme of things operates in this country […] whatever one’s conclusions about all this, it did seem time […] that one of us actually went to one of Gipps’ concerts.

Gipps’ work in conducting, teaching and music administration meant that her rate of composition slowed down, but her musical outlook remained resolute. She saw her art as a continuation of an English tradition of Vaughan Williams, Bliss and Walton, and she fiercely opposed all forms of musical modernism, which she considered a ‘conning of the public’. Like many composers at this time, she fell the wrong side of the more progressive focus of William Glock, the influential Head of Music at the BBC from 1959, and her music suffered as a result. Her tirades against the BBC’s position and their enormous centralised power can hardly have helped. But through her own orchestras she performed a wide range of overlooked repertoire, including music by fellow women Elizabeth Maconchy and Grace Williams.

Ruth Gipps discussing her symphony no. 4 with its dedicatee, Arthur Bliss. Shared with permission of Lance Baker.

Today, a stark injustice is simply that so little of her music is able to be heard. What has been recorded shows that, while the ingredients are familiar, there is a powerful imagination and distinctive personality at work. Listening to the magnificent and moving fourth symphony, it is hard not to conclude that a man who had written this score would have had a complete box-set of symphonies released by now. Currently, only the single-movement no.2 has a modern commercial recording – a woeful state of affairs. I will make a rare prediction: awards are waiting to be won for whichever label is shrewd enough to give this piece a new start in life.

Despite her often brash personality, Gipps was known to be enormously generous and helpful to other musicians, and was admired for her courage, energy and integrity. Yet as a figure forced to be defined by her gender, her views on the position of women can seem contradictory. She campaigned against the ‘sex bar’ that prevented married women from playing in many orchestras into the 1960s. She refused to let motherhood hold back her career – a stance admittedly aided by the class privileges of nannies and boarding school. And yet she held very conservative views on sex and marriage, and emphatically distanced herself from feminism. It is particularly interesting that she composed a cantata setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market – an erotically suggestive fairytale of two sisters and their temptation by fruit-selling goblins. ‘Well into old age’, Halstead recalls, ‘her need to discuss sexuality was palpable, leaving the impression that it remained an unceasing source of fascination and anxiety.’

Gipps in her Morgan sports car. Shared with permission of Lance Baker.

A consistent theme is that music, a steadfast force in her life, would always come first. Even so, one particularly startling fact stands out. Gipps freely admitted that she had only ever kissed her son once, and then by mistake. It occurred when he was a baby, and she momentarily thought that, like the little girl on the poster, she was holding her cat.

The thorny thickets of Gipps’ character seem to stand in contrast to the clarity, emotional appeal, and tenderness in her music. After her death in 1999, a poem was found among her belongings, typed on a scrap of paper. It speaks of a world-weariness, and a wish to be ‘Reincarnated in the sea / So deep that steamers passing by / Are fathoms over where I lie.’

The poems ends with an image of retreat unfamiliar to her gung-ho public persona: ‘A shell my homely habitation / A hermit crab my designation.’ Go in search of Ruth Gipps, and even when you find her, something hides away. Inevitably you are drawn back to that smiling prodigy, both applauded and bullied, gradually fencing herself in.

At age seven, Gipps would say, she learnt how to win respect from the boys at school. One day a boy pushed her to the floor, expecting her to cry. But she got back up, fists raised, ready to fight back. What sounds like a trivial account of a childhood horseplay has, Halstead notes, a kind of romantic symbolism of how she saw her life. Of how an extraordinary but isolated girl would compete in a world of men, aggressively navigating her own kind of Goblin Market.

‘I learnt that I, who was always the odd one out with girls, got on fine with boys’, Gipps said. ‘They very, very nearly accepted me as one of themselves’.

Ruth Gipps: Anti-Modernism, Nationalism and Difference in English Music can be ordered online from Routledge.

Simon Brackenborough is the founder and editor of Corymbus. He is a music graduate who divides his time between Hampshire and London, and tweets at @sbrackenborough.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

The uptight Dutch airline has acknowledged a ‘misunderstanding’ at Heathrow Airport which led to them refusing to recognise Steven Isserlis’s purchase of a seat for his cello.

The ‘misunderstanding’ sent Steven rushing round the airport for another flight, putting him to great expense. Over 30,000 people, many of them frequent fliers, have read his story on Slipped Disc.

KLM have now refunded his out-of-pocket expenses, plus a small (really small) goodwill amount on top.

They apologised to his travel agent in an email, but refused to apologise to Steven in person.


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Posted by norman lebrecht

A contributor to VAN magazine recalls confusing times as a student in London around two decades ago:

One evening quite some time ago, in a cramped computer lab, it struck me that maybe my professor had fallen in love with my classmate. Nick Martin was finishing the parts for a piece of his—a nagging job—and the professor was helping him. Recently, I called Martin. “Do you remember [the professor] helping you with your parts?” I asked. A pause. “Yup,” he said. “Do you know why?” “I don’t know.” “Can I tell you what I think? It was because [the professor] was attracted to you,” I said. “Well, I knew that. He said he had feelings for me.” 

Martin was 18 years old, and the professor was turning 40. Martin is good looking, with blond hair and glasses; at the time he wore tight jeans and brightly colored socks. The undergraduate composition class at the Royal Academy of Music in London was always small, with around four new students per year. The professor was highly involved there, “omnipresent,” as Martin described it. He and the professor began spending their free time together. Then other people made assumptions about what was going on. “Many people in the Academy actually thought we were sleeping together. And I remember thinking that was awful. I didn’t want that,” Martin told me. One evening, after a concert, Martin went into the conservatory’s basement bar, and the professor and another professor were there, and this second professor asked them, very casually, “Are you guys fucking?” 

Read on here.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

The yellow label today signed Kian Soltani, 25, winner of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival’s Leonard Bernstein Award.

His debut album Home will include works by Schubert and Schumann, together with the world premiere recording of Reza Vali’s Seven Persian Folk Songs.

Born in Bregenz to a family of Persian musicians, Soltani has toured internationally with the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and with Daniel Barenboim and the West-East Diwan orchestra. In March, he played the opening week of Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, returning two months later to give a concert of traditional Persian music with the Shiraz Ensemble.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

press release:
The conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya has launched Latin Orchestral Music, an online resource devoted to providing a complete and comprehensive source of information about orchestral music from Latin America and the Caribbean. The catalog, which is constantly being updated, currently includes 1,616 composers from 24 countries and features a list of 9,125 works.

Harth-Bedoya, who is Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Oslo, has been a longtime advocate for music from his native Latin America. Over the past two decades, he has conducted, recorded, and discovered many composers including fellow Peruvian, Jimmy Lopez and Colombian composer, Victor Agudelo. He has also championed works by less well-known composers such as Diego Luzuriaga (Ecuador), Alberto Williams (Argentina), and Alfonso Leng (Chile), among many others.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

Some 47,000 Israelis turned out yesterday to hear the British prog-rock group in Tel Aviv. The band played their longest concert in more than a decade and Jonny Greenwood thanked the crowd with a few choice words in Hebrew.

Among the audience was the violinist Michael Greilsammer, who promptly recorded this tribute.

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Posted by Michael McDonagh

Our Buddhist friends like to remind us that the idea that we are separate is an illusion and not a fact but try telling that to anybody anywhere these days desperately trying to “connect” by every mobile device known to man. And if that doesn’t spell separation/alienation we might need a new word for this state of mind.
Leave it to French poet-artist-playwright-novelist-filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963 ) to set things right because the characters in his work are often desperately trying to connect as in his lyric tragedy with composer Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine (1958 ) where the speaker is quite literally at the end of her tether. And let’s not forget the fact that Cocteau was always making war on established truths, and toying with what appearances mean or seem to mean. I walk around my block and nothing makes “sense” but that’s crazy because nothing really ever does.
Cocteau, at any rate, rarely tried to make “rational” sense in his work, and composer Philip Glass began his Cocteau trilogy with Orphee (1992) in which he took the script of Cocteau’s 1950 film of the same name and made it into an opera for singers and chamber orchestra, and though crystal clear in construction and sound it was almost as dreamlike as its source. Francesca Zambello’s white-on-white original production which I caught at The Brooklyn Academy Of Music was impressive, though much more so in its second half. Glass went further with La Belle et la Bete (1994) in which he used Cocteau’s 1946 film of the same name as both visual environment and text. The film’s sound was turned off which meant losing the actors’ voices as well as Georges Auric’s original incidental — partial — score which Glass replaced with a wall to wall one of his own for singers, with Glass and his Philip Glass Ensemble playing live. The result was a remarkable fusion of image, words, and music which I caught in Charles Otte’s US premiere at BAM, and in a slightly different but equally successful production by the PGE in 2013 at www.ybca.org, and in an overly busy and diffuse one by Oakland Opera Theater minus the film.
Glass went even further in his “dance/opera/spectacle” Les Enfants Terribles: Children of the Game (1996) which he and director-choreographer Susan Marshall derived from Cocteau’s eponymous 1929 novel and Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1950 film. The result was a highly theatrical work for singers, dancers, and three digital/grand pianos which foregrounded the reality which Elisabeth and her brother Paul construct as a substitute for their boring day to day life. Dance mirrors their animal natures, or as Glass put it in a program note for its original production which I wrote about for the defunct gay arts mag Provocateur — ” Here, time stands still. There is only music, and the movement of children through space”, which Opera Parallele re-imagined in surprising but perfectly apt ways They made the unreal real, and the real unreal and that’s catnip for opera.
The snow which fell onto the BAM stage from above was here projected on a scrim with the cast behind it facing the audience, and when the scrim went up, they stepped forward and the drama hurtled towards its dark inevitable end. Paul felled by the “marble-fisted.. marble-hearted blow ” of a snowball with a rock inside it thrown by his male friend Dargelos whom he’s in love with. `Paul convalesces at home with his sister where they seal themselves off from the world in their “Room” where they play the “Game ” which devours them and everyone who enters it. Entrapment. Betrayal. Incest. Poison. Death. And let’s not forget that Cocteau was coming off opium when he wrote Les Enfants so every production of it has to have the perfervid force of a dream, and this one had that in spades. Amy Seiwert’s dancers doubled baritone Hadleigh Adams’ Paul and soprano Rachel Schutz’s Lise disturbingly; director Brian Staufenbiehl’s fluidly calibrated movement surrounded / opposed tenor Andres Ramirez’s Narrator / Gerard who’s Paul and Lise’s friend mezzo Kindra Scharich enacted both Dargelos — Cocteau on Paul’s view of Dargelos  — “He had imagined himself in thrall to an accidental likeness between a schoolboy and a a girl ” — and the siblings’ friend Agathe to ambiguous and exacting effect. Ambiguous because everything here is ambiguous yet clear as your face in the glass, and exacting because though Cocteau may have been on opium when he wrote it his French is dispassionately clear, precise, a sealed off language in which even the biggest flights of fancy don’t quite take off because French has always been about where you should touch down, and that means rules understood and obeyed to a tee.
And this distance between the implied and the said is so very Cocteau, and so very Philip Glass which is here in his two against three rhythmic oppositions which hide and reveal his clear yet always moving harmonic structures, and it’s here when these three superb pianists build those structures one upon the other like floors in a building, utterly separate yet conjoined, indefinite space clearly defined, or as Debussy advised Satie — ” Music should stay where it is, not follow the play. It should be like a decor. A property tree doesn’t go into convulsion when an actor crosses the stage ” and it’s here where Staufenbiehl’s silent film isn’t an invention or an intervention but part of a barely glimpsed whole complete in its incompleteness. Or should we leave it to Cocteau who said ” style is a simple way of saying complicated things.” And to think that I saw the final dress of Verdi’s Rigoletto at www.sfopera.com just after Opera Parallele’s Glass Les Enfants. Two masters of our music theatre art operating at the very top of their respective games. We like to think we’re separate but we aren’t.

Music by Philip Glass

Libretto by Jean Cocteau 

Sung in French and English with English supertitles 
Caroline H. Hume Hall
Directed by Brian Staufenbiehl
Conducted by Nicole Paiment 
Pianists : Kevin Korth; Keisuke Nakagoshi; Eva-Maria Zimmerman
Choreography: Amy Seiwert
Dancers: Steffi Cheong; Brett Conway
Singers; Rachel Schutz; Hadleigh Adams; Andre Ramirez; Kindra Scharich

Kurtág on ECM

Jul. 20th, 2017 04:29 pm
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Posted by Christian Carey

György Kurtág

Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir

Asko | Schönberg and Netherlands Radio Choir; Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor

ECM Records 3xCD 2505-07


Composer György Kurtág was born in Transylvania, but his many years of association with the Budapest conservatory have identified him as one of the foremost composers of Hungary, heir to Ligeti’s mantle as forward thinker and brilliant creator. ECM has been the label most associated with his music. Their release last decade of his string works was revelatory and one could certainly heap plaudits on the label’s celebration of Kurtág’s eightieth birthday in 2006 with a recording of his brilliant Kafka Fragments.


To celebrate his ninetieth year, just a smidge late, ECM has released a 3 CD set of Kurtág’s Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir. Even before listening, it is something to behold. ECM rightly has a reputation for lovingly curating their releases, but a number of interviews and essays (including program notes by Paul Griffiths), inclusion of the complete texts in sympathetic translations (no matter how thorny the originals), and many samples of the composer’s handwritten scores and ink drawings make this release a feast for the eyes. As for the ears, it has a remarkable dynamic range, clearly rendering everything from the softest whispers to thunderous bass drum thwacks with a sense of energetic potency.


The variance of dynamics is just one part of the multi-layered structures found in this music. From fragments of instrumental sound and disordered declamation to walls of choral sound and altissimo register vocal climaxes, Kurtág’s work encompasses a wide range of expression. In terms of desire, grief, fear, exhaustion, resiliency, and pain, there seems to be not a shade of emotion missing: his music is a complete catalog of the modernist project. Conductor Reinbert de Leeuw elicits each of these emotions and musical demeanors in turn with the surest of hands, drawing consummately detailed performances from the assembled forces. If you make it your business to get one recording of music by Kurtág, this is it.


Label raid: Dutch grab DG pianist

Jul. 20th, 2017 12:52 pm
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Posted by norman lebrecht

Just in from Pentatone:

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, winner of the 2017 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, has signed with the label. The French pianist intends to record key works from his repertoire, spanning three centuries and ranging from Bach to Kurtág.  His move to PENTATONE follows an exclusive association with Deutsche Grammophon that began nearly a decade ago.

This significant new partnership will be launched next March with the release of Messiaen’s complete Catalogue d’oiseaux, a first in Aimard’s discography. The pianist was personally very close to the composer himself and his wife, Yvonne Loriod, for whom Messiaen wrote the Catalogue. The cycle is inspired by the composer’s annotation of the birdsong he heard across various regions of France.




Over There!

Jul. 20th, 2017 05:12 am
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George M Cohan - Over There
Over There!, John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Ian Venables, Herbert Howells & popular songs; Richard Bryan, Katie Bray, Nick Pritchard, Craig Colclough, Louise Williams, William Vann; London English Song Festival at Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Powerful musical evocation of the entry of the USA into World War One

With Over There! the London English Song Festival returned to Wilton's Music Hall for a further programme exploring World War One through music and readings, this time combining popular song and art songs themed around the entry of the USA into the war in 1917. Pianist William Vann, artistic director of the London English Song Festival, was joined by mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, tenor Nick Pritchard, baritone Craig Colclough, viola player Louise Williams and reader Richard Bryan for a programme which included popular song by George M Cohan, George Fairman, Ed Nelson & Will Hart, and art songs by John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Charles Ives, and Ian Venables. As with their 2016 programme Songs of the Somme! (see my review), this was a staged recital with the three singers in military fatigues.

We opened with Woodrow Wilson's speech to Congress on 2 April 1917 taking the USA into the war underscored with The Star Spangled Banner on the piano, followed by a sequence of popular songs which captured the upbeat mood, the most famous being George Cohan's Over There, but also George Fairman's I don't know where I'm going but I'm on my way and Ed Nelson & Will Hart's delightful When Yankee Doddle learns to parlez-vois Francais.

There followed a section which explored the British experience, with settings of Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas, and a reading of Alan Seeger's moving I have a Rendez-vous with Death. Rupert Brooke's The Soldier and Edward Thomas' Lights Out are such well-known, powerful poems that I had the rather unworthy thought that neither John Ireland's setting of The Soldier nor Ivor Gurney's setting of Lights Out completely captured the mood of the poem.

Intriguingly Charles Ives was present in a trio of songs which he wrote during the war, which moved from the sentimental In Flanders Fields (setting John McCrae) through to poignant Tom Sails away to the down-right upbeat He is there, though this latter was probably intended as an ironic comment on the jingoism of war and that was how the song was staged, the extreme contrast between the upbeat mood of the song and the realities of experience in the trenches.

It was this reality which dominated the final sections of the evening, with John Ireland's In boyhood paired with his piano solo For Remembrance and Wilfred Owen's poem Strange Meeting, far longer and darker than the version set by Britten in his War Requiem.

Ian Venables Suicide in the Trenches setting Siegfried Sassoon, and If you forget setting Geoffrey S Kennedy (both with viola from Louise Williams) provided a powerful modern take on the futility of war, complemented by John Ireland's A Garrison Churchyard and The Cost. The evening ended with an excerpt from Howells Elegy for viola and piano, and Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth.

This was a powerful and movement evening, with the choice of songs and readings providing interesting counterpoints and the arc of the drama progressed from American idealism through to ultimate disillusion. All performers gave strong, highly involved performances with the singers sharing the songs between them and remaining involved and in the moment even when not singing.

As well as the three public performances (the final one is tonight, 20 July 2017), there are two schools matinees and an Eductional Matinee Cover Art Competition with the winner's design printed in the programme.
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Posted by norman lebrecht

A strategy was presented today to make the half-billion-pound concert hall that Simon Rattle is demanding the centrepiece of a Culture Mile in the City of London.

That’s all very well, but there has been no public consultation on the new hall, no value-for-money assessment, no demographic study and no recognition that, once Brexit kicks in, the City will be struggling to pay for luxuries.

The hall is, in our view, an otiose digression from more critical cultural issues.

Here’s the press release:

The City of London Corporation, together with the Barbican, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Symphony Orchestra and Museum of London, have announced plans for a major destination for culture and creativity in the Square Mile.

Unveiled today as ‘Culture Mile’, this ambitious and transformational initiative will create a vibrant cultural area in the north-west corner of the City over the next 10 to 15 years. Stretching just under a mile from Farringdon to Moorgate, Culture Mile will have creative exchange, cultural collaboration and learning at its core in an area where 2,000 years of history collide with the world’s best in culture.

Culture Mile’s core partners are all internationally acclaimed organisations in their own right and some partnerships already operate across these institutions. Over the next decade and beyond, the five partners, led by the City of London Corporation, will transform the area, improving their offer to audiences with imaginative collaborations, outdoor programming and events seven days a week. Links between venues will be improved and major enhancements to the streets and wider public realm will enliven the area which, as Culture Mile expands and flourishes, will be regenerated.

Crossrail’s new Elizabeth Line connections at Farringdon and Moorgate, which open in December 2018, will make it much easier to travel to, and from, the City. Around 1.5 million additional visitors a year will be within a 45-minute journey of the area when the Elizabeth Line becomes fully operational in December 2019 and the North-South Thameslink line is upgraded. 

Farringdon will have direct access to three major London airports with a 30-minute journey time from London Heathrow. It will be the only place where London Underground, Thameslink and Crossrail all interlink and will be one of the busiest stations in the UK, making the area more connected than ever to London and beyond.

There are three major building projects associated with Culture Mile which enhance its potential scale and ambition: 

  • the new Museum of London* at West Smithfield, which is already developing its designs
  • the proposed Centre for Music**, for which the preferred site is currently occupied by the Museum of London – has recently announced the shortlist of world class architects competing to develop the concept design for a state-of-the-art building of acoustic and visual excellence.
  • the transformation of Beech Street***, which will become a crucial axis for Culture Mile. The City of London Corporation is assessing how best to transform Beech Street, to make it a more welcoming environment, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, including new measures to improve air quality, introducing retail units and providing better access to the existing cultural destinations either side of it. There will be consultation on the proposals to achieve these aims.


Early music chief steps down

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:59 am
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Posted by norman lebrecht

The soprano Clare Norburn, co-founder of the Brighton Early Music Festival, will leave her post as joint artistic director in November.

Fifteen years, she says, is enough. She wants to write plays.


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Posted by norman lebrecht

Days after choosing a French principal oboe, the IPO has named Dmitry Malkin as his partner on cor anglais.

Dmitry is presently with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. The move takes effect at the start of the new season.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

The Canadian soloist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou has said her 300 year-old violin was maltreated by security agents at Pearson airport. ‘They basically attacked my violin before I had a chance to do anything about it,’ she says.

The violinist, 39, was flying to Brazil via Miami on a day when new US security measures came into force. She is looking at filing an official complaint against the Toronto security officials.

All artists travelling to or via the US need to make themselves aware of this week’s security enhancements.



Reality - Rabia al-Basri

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:56 am
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Posted by Bruce Levitan

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
Read more »

Iranian opera director: I am Aida

Jul. 20th, 2017 10:55 am
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Posted by norman lebrecht

The video artist Shirin Neshat, who is directing the new Verdi Aida in Salzburg with Anna Netrebko in the title role, has been reflecting on its personal significance.

‘Both in my work and in my private life, there is this dichotomy between being a woman and political tyranny and oppression,’ she told a Salzburg audience yesterday. ‘I identify with Aida… I know how Aida must feel; you undergo a process (of exile), you realise you can go on, that you can fall in love again, adapt to the circumstances.’

Aida is a survivor, she adds, experiencing phases of nostalgia, of rage, of hope for a return – all the while accepting that there is no way back. ‘Sometimes the boundaries between Aida and myself are blurred.’



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Posted by norman lebrecht

The chanteuse Barbara Weldens, a singer-songwriter in the traditions of Barbara and Jacques Brel, has collapsed and died during a church concert in the southwestern village of Goudron.

Local reports suggest she may have been electrocuted by touching a live wire. The cause of death was cardiac arrest.

This is a tremendous loss for French chanson.

Carmen gets drenched at Bregenz

Jul. 20th, 2017 09:56 am
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Posted by norman lebrecht

Kasper Holten’s Carmen production at the Bregenz Festival opened last night under heavy clouds.

At the first kiss on stage, there was a flash of lightning.

Then the heavens opened.

On went the raincoats. On went the opera.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

Condolences to Wynton and Branford Marsalis, whose mother Dolores died on Tuesday of pancreatic cancer, aged 80.

She is survived by her husband, New Orleans jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, and six sons, four of whom became jazz professionals.

Here we go (again)

Jul. 20th, 2017 09:26 am
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Posted by ukcomposer

Today will be a day of cramming it all in, the big things that have been pushed back and the small things that have just slipped through the net.  Tomorrow it is back to Anghiari for the Festival, a feast of music, companionship, and running around the Tuscan countryside trying to keep up with everything.

Once upon a time I went out to introduce concerts, but over the years that role has expanded to include playing, directing rehearsals, arranging and – of course – composing.  For all the strange comments that somehow come my way (“Your road signs are in the wrong place!” “Who is your legal representation?”  “I’ve read about your piece and it sounds ghastly!”) the good things remain and the bad things…well, they become anecdotes for the next year.

Apart from the friendship of the town itself, all enveloped in the sound of musics from windows, stages and squares, there is the Festival atmosphere – an Allegri Quartet member here, a Southbank player there, an incognito celebrity at the furthermost table at the bar – that places a surprise around every corner.  Also, for the visitors at least, there is the sense of being off the clock.

I want, though, to bring some attention to those who work incessantly behind the scenes to make sure that everything works.  I would wager significant amounts that the happy folks in the seats in front of the stage have only the smallest knowledge of what happens in the entire year leading up to the Festival, but be advised that the effort is considerable and unstinting.

Personally, it means that I can fly in, do my stuff to the best of my ability, and fly out again safe in the knowledge that everything has been looked after, and that even the wrinkles will be smoothly and calmly ironed.  Tours are not always like that, so if the magnetism of Nando’s (no, not that Nando’s) keeps me from saying it, a heartfelt thank you.  A presto, and who’s up for some Codenames?

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Posted by Timothy Green

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2017: Artist’s Choice


No Name #2 by Ryan Schaufler

Image: “No Name #2” by Ryan Schaufler. “Blue Rain Clouds, Reddish Ground and Tall Crosses” was written by Jose Rizal Reyes for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2017, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Jose Rizal Reyes


The sky has gotten heavy with the rain
that’s started to unleash upon the ground.
Electric posts remind us of the slain
including someone who with thorns was crowned.

We’ve traveled far into this world of form;
our multicolored journey moves along.
The clouds and ground magically transform
to blue and red be it so right or wrong.

Where leads this road that doesn’t seem to end?
Or is our destination getting close?
What tinted view awaits beyond the bend?
I don’t know nor know anyone who knows.

But like a trip, to appreciate an art,
there must be somewhere where we ought to start.

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2017
Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Ryan Schaufler, on this selection: “Several themes appeared throughout the collection of poems: feelings of loss, searching for purpose, remembrance of personal past and/or historical memories, spiritual confusion/search, spiritual experience found in the open road and expanse of land, fear of political/environmental/cultural changes, fear of the open road (where to start, where does it end, what’s next?). I was touched by ‘Blue Rain Clouds, Reddish Ground and Tall Crosses’ by Jose Rizal Reyes. He approaches the image from a somewhat different point-of-view than myself, yet intersects similar thoughts that I have when traveling across America, and how I felt when I took the original picture. I appreciated the simplicity of his well-structured sonnet and the subtle complexity that expressed the multitudinous colors that paint the traveler’s mind when confronted with endless road, expansive landscape, and the deteriorating structures of its past (man-made or otherwise). It was one of the more literal interpretations, while extending both somber and playful tones of heart and musicality. Whether one is traveling through the farmlands of the Midwest, the sacred Badlands, the dry deserts of the Southwest, epic towers of the Rocky Mountains, or the rolling hills of the Appalachian Trail, there is an unquestionable sense of spiritual connection that has been conveyed by countless people and cultures since man took their first step upon this continent. Mr. Reyes provides haunting dynamics that are now complicating these lands with centuries of historical and spiritual trauma that we, as American’s, often refuse to confront. In addition, there is an unavoidable clash of spiritual and political when traveling through America which he touches upon (perhaps, unintentionally) with the reference of ‘blue and red be it so right or wrong.’ This embattled merging often muddies the purity of the experience and sends the mind swirling into a frenzy of questions, fears, and memories. Reyes reminds us of the importance to ask questions and challenge, not only what we see, but what we know (or think we know). Finally, he leads us to that frightening truth that every journey requires us to ‘start’ the process, which, to me, means if we focus on worrying about the length of the road or what will greet us at the end, we may never begin our travels. In other words, we will be stuck watching and wondering and never truly experiencing what life, art, nature, and humanity has to offer. It is simple questions filled with extraordinary answers only found by confronting the road in front of us. This is why I felt a deep and humbling connection to this particular poem and the image with no name.”

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Horatia Nelson
Horatia Nelson
The parish of St Marylebone is 900 this year, with the present church being 200 and the second St Marylebone Festival celebrates these events with a week of festivities in and around the church from 22 July to 28 July 2017. Things kick off with a come-and-sing Haydn Nelson Mass with conductor Gavin Roberts and soloists Helen Semple, Caroline Doggett, Nicholas Berry and Andrew Copeman. Haydn's Missa in Angustiis was written in 1798 but became known as the Nelson Mass after Nelson attended  performance of the mass at Esterhazy Palace. Nelson's daughter, Horatia was baptised at St Marylebone Parish Church in 1803. Horatia's mother was Nelson's mistress, Emma Hamilton and the concert will also include Haydn's Lines from the battle of the Nile which was written to be sung by Emma Hamilton and celebrated Nelson's victory over Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

Other events at the festival include a recital by Stephen Grahl celebrating the 30th anniversary of the church's Rieger organ, a festal Evensong, and Ensemble Hesperi in a programme of music and readings evoking the pleasure gardens of Old Marylebone.

Soprano Alison Pitt and pianist Gavin Roberts explore settings of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (of nearby Wimpole Street) with music by Amy Beach, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge, Michael Head, Arnold Bax, Maude Valerie White and Edward Elgar. Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were clandestinely married at St Marylebone Parish Church in 1846.

Another concert celebrates the UK premiere of Brahms' Requiem which took place in 1871 in the home in Wimpole Street of a leading surgeon, this used Brahms' own version of the piece with piano duet accompaniment and the choir of St Marylebone Parish Church is joined by soprano Lucy Hall, baritone Ben McAteer and pianists Gavin Roberts and Elizabeth Burgess. The evening also includes songs and piano music by Schubert.

The festival concludes with the church's organ scholar, Bertie Baigent conducting the London Young Sinfonia in a programme of Erwin Stein's chamber version of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 plus a new work by Baigent himself.

Full details from the festival page on EventBrite.

Choral at Cadogan at 10

Jul. 19th, 2017 11:20 pm
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Choral at Cadogan - 2017/18
Choral at Cadogan returns to Cadogan Hall in September 2017 for the tenth series with eight concerts showcasing choirs and vocal ensembles. The Tallis Scholars, artistic director Peter Phillips, open and close the series and there are concerts from The Sixteen, Stile Antico, Vox Luminis, the National Youth Chamber Choir and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. 

The Tallis Scholars first concert features Monteverdi's works in the prima prattica style, unaccompanied polyphony following the example of Palestrina, and the concert will also feature music by Palestrina, Allegri, Gesualdo and Lotti. The choir returns in June 2018 in expanded form to perform Tallis's 40-part Spem in Alium alongside large-scale works by Sheppard, White and Sutton.

Stile Antico is joined by organist Oliver John Ruthven and violone player Kate Aldridge for music of the German Baroque including Schutz's Musiklische Exequien and Bach's Jesu meine Freude, plus music by Handl, Hassler, Daser and Knofel.

The Sixteen and Harry Christophers bring their Christmas programme, Glory to the Christ Child, which includes Poulenc's Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel and his profoundly moving Un soir de neige alongside more popular Christmas Fare. And still in a Christmas mood, the Temple Church Choir, conductor Roger Sayer, bring their Christmas programme with a selection which moves from Sweelinck's Cnatatye domino and Reger's Maria Wiegenlied to The Twelve Days of Christmas and Howard Blake's The Snowman.

The National Youth Chamber Choir, conductor Ben Parry, presents a range of music all written when the composer were in their youthful twenties, with music by Monteverdi, Britten, Owain Park, Billy Joel, Sting and more. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, conductor Stephen Cleobury, perform music inspired by Lent and Holy Week including Tallis's Lamentations, Stabat mater settings by Palestrina and Lassus, Poulenc's Lenten motes and motets by Brahms. The Belgian group Vox Luminis, director Lionel Meunier, will be performing works by Tallis and Sheppard.

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Boston mourns a popular flute

Jul. 19th, 2017 07:38 pm
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Posted by norman lebrecht

The Boston Flute Academy has announced the death of Fenwick Smith, long-serving second flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and principal of the Boston Pops. He was 69.

Fenwick resigned from the orchestras in 2005 to pursue a diverse chamber music and teaching career.

Passionate about modern music he played in recordings of premiere recordings of Copland, Foote, Gaubert, Ginastera, Koechlin, Dahl, Harbison, Cage, Pinkham, Schulhoff, Schuller, Schoenberg, Rorem, and Reinecke.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

The LA Phil music director calls on the Maduro regime to stop tinkering with the constitution and do something to halt the bloodshed in the streets. His final par is probably too diplomatic to have much impact.

As a conductor, I have learned that our society, like an orchestra, is formed by a large number of people, all of them different and unique, each with his or her own ideas, personal convictions and visions of the world. This wonderful diversity means that in politics, as in music, no absolute truths exist. In order to thrive as a society (as well as to achieve musical excellence), we must create a common frame of reference in which all individuals feel included despite their differences, one that minimizes the noise and cacophony of disagreement and allows us to fine-tune, through plurality and diverging points of view.

Full op-ed here. There is an on-page button you can click to read the article in the original Spanish.


Epic cellist dies, aged 101

Jul. 19th, 2017 04:21 pm
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Posted by norman lebrecht

The Italian-born Argentine cellist José Bragato has bowed his last at a phenomenal age and after a life of intense activity. He died on July 18 in Buenos Aires.

Arriving in Buenos Aires at age 13, he was named principal cellist of the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946, moving two years later to the Colon orchestra, where he played for two decades. Most famously, he played in the Buenos Aires Octet with Astor Piazzola.

During the 1970s military dictatorship he migrated to Brazil, playing in the Orquestra Sinfonica de Porto Alegre until 1982, when he returned home.

Bragato was also a composer of 50 published scores.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

A December 1940 New York performance of the Paganini Rhapsody by Gitta Gradova has been put up today on Youtube. She’s quite a powerhouse.

Gradova stopped playing in public two years later under spousal pressure, vanishing from the musical scene.

Beware the cut and breaks in this recording, but the performance is formidable, at times overwhelming.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

Sergio Roberto de Oliveira faced up to his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer by keeping a video diary of his progress through music and life.

Tragically, his struggle ended today.

Tom Moore writes:

My dear friend Sergio Roberto de Oliveira, whom I met almost twenty years ago, after battling pancreatic cancer for a year and a half, has left us here below to go to the World-That-Is-Coming. He suffered so much during these last months, but with a nobility that shows all of us how to live life to the very fullest, to drink the cup to the very last drop, creating his first opera at the very end, which ends not with sadness, but with transcendence, and a conclusion that is not a closed door, but a hand beckoning us upwards and onwards. Sergio showed me how to be the best man that I can be. He will be remembered as one of the greatest of Brazilian composers, someone who not only created his own lasting oeuvre, but was fundamental to contemporary music in Rio in the 21st century.

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Johane Ansell as Floriana, Anne Sophie Duprels as Zazà, James Cleverton as Bussy and the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Johane Ansell as Floriana, Anne Sophie Duprels as Zazà, James Cleverton as Bussy and the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Leoncavallo Zaza; Anne Sophie Duprels, Joel Montero, Richard Burkhard, Louise Winter; dir: Marie Lambert, City of London Sinfonia, cond: Peter Robinson; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Leoncavallo's French music-hall drama receives a rare UK staging

Leoncavallo: Zaza - Joel Montero, Anne Sophie Duprels - Opera Holland Park (Photo © Robert Workman)
Joel Montero, Anne Sophie Duprels - (Photo © Robert Workman)
Leoncavallo's Zaza returned to public attention in 2015 thanks to Opera Rara's recording (and associated concert performance) but this is an opera which cries out for a full staging, and now Opera Holland Park staged it handsomely in a new production by Marie Lambert, designed by Alyson Cummins and Camille Assaf with Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role (seen 18 July 2017). A large cast included Joel Montero as Milio, Louise Winter as Anaide, Richard Burkhard as Cascart, James Cleverton as Bussy, Johane Ansell as Floriana and Charne Rochford as Courtois, with Peter Robinson conducting the City of London Sinfonia.

The opera is set in and around a French music hall in the 1890s, and Act One is a complex, multilayered construction with both backstage and on-stage action. In the stage directions suggest a back-stage setting with a door leading to the music hall stage, with this providing glimpses of the entertainment when open. Marie Lambert's production chose a different route, with Alyson Cummins' set taking advantage of the full width of the Opera Holland Park stage. So we had the main back-stage area, with Zaza's dressing room down-stage, then stage right was the rear of the music hall stage with the stage performers and music hall audience half hidden in the far corner, with the back stage entrance stage left. The music hall entertainment was continuous, with some acts performed silently. Quite how much of this music hall entertainment you could see if you were sitting on the very right of the auditorium I am not sure. But the result gave us a wonderfully detailed feeling of being back-stage at the music hall, and thanks to Mark Jonathan's lighting and Lambert's blocking, we always knew which part of the action was the primary focus.

What Lambert could not disguise was that Act One of the opera is a busy, fussy construction full of cameos as if Leoncavallo (who had worked at a French music-hall in his youth) wanted to include as much background detail as possible. Lambert gave each of the minor players a strong character, so we soon got the feeling of who was whom. But the centre of attention was firmly on Anne Sophie Duprels's Zaza.

Charne Rochford as Courtois, Richard Burkhard as Cascart and John Cleverton as Bussy in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Charne Rochford as Courtois, Richard Burkhard as Cascart and John Cleverton as Bussy in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
The piece requires a captivating performance from the singer of the title role, Leoncavallo's music does not quite do all the work. And Anne Sophie Duprels really did invest the character of Zaza with a depth and complexity which at first engaged and then deepened into a profound sympathy. The basics of the plot are a bit common-place (music-hall singer has affair with man who turns out to be married) and the opera rather relies on the colourful background to create an effect. But Duprels really captured our hearts, making Zaza's plight believable..

Key to the role is Zaza's relationships with those around her, whether it is her jealousy of her younger rival Floriana (a delightful Johane Ansell) which culminates in a wonderful spat, the half flirting with the writer Bussy (the charming James Cleverton), her love-hate relationship with her alcoholic mother Anaide (a wonderfully characterful Louise Winter) or her close friendship with Cascart, a former lover and current professional partner (a wonderfully rounded portrait from Richard Burkhard). But the essential engine of the opera is the relationship with the business man Milio (Joel Montero) with a sequence of rapturous duets culminating in the final one where she sends him packing.

Aida Ippolito as Totò in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Aida Ippolito © Robert Workman
Duprels and Montero created a strongly passionate relationship yet believable relationship, helped by the fact that Montero's character is hardly love's young dream (he is a married business man) and the romance is very much in Zaza's head. Montero's Milio was a rather solid character, not a shit just someone who expected to be able to have a wife and a mistress in two separate lives. The real drama comes when Zaza breaks this barrier and in Act Two goes to Milio's house. When he finds out in Act Three he is horrified, but ultimately she lets him off. Montero's darkly resonant tenor lent substance to the character, and if he seemed to take time to warm up, by the time of the climactic love duet which concluded Act One he sang with darkly passionate tones.

Leoncavallo gives the other characters hardly more than cameos, though each gets a small moment. The exception is Cascart who is a more developed character, whom in Richard Burkard's performance we realise real cares for Zaza, whilst Zaza's mother Anaide is another significant presence, though here the character is hardly more than a sketch though warmly portrayed by Louise Winter. In the climactic scene in Milio's house, Joanne Marie Skillett was suitably icy as Milio's wife, whilst Aida Ippolito charmed as Milio's daughter Toto.

Zaza's dresser Natalie does not sing a lot, but Ellie Edmonds made her a constant, sympathetic presence, and Oliver Brignell was the porter, Marco. Charne Rocheford was the impresario Courtois, having to put up with all the antics of his performers, with Eddie Wade as Duclou.

The Opera Holland Park Chorus deserves a strong mention, providing many of the cameo performers in the music hall entertainment in Act One, as well as singing admirably, with stand-out roles from Michael Bradley as  Augusto, Alexandra Stenson as Claretta and Charlotte Hewett as Simonds.

Like many operas by members of the giovane scuola, the opera's default position was a melodic orchestral texture with dialogue above, and under Peter Robinson's direction the City of London Sinfonia drew out the beauties of Leoncavallo's rather luxuriant score.

Louise Winter as Anaide and Michael Bradley as Augusto in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Louise Winter as Anaide and Michael Bradley as Augusto in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
There is much to admire and enjoy in Leoncavallo's Zaza, but it is not an opera which plays itself and it requires strong advocacy. At Opera Holland Park it received a committed and thoroughly engaged performance from all concerned, really bringing out the drama with Marie Lambert's production admirably conveying the opera's delights.

Elsewhere on this blog:

Up in the city

Jul. 19th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by ukcomposer

The storm woke me during the night so I sat up for an hour as it passed and tinkered with a few bits of work.  I also learned that my car alarm works, as, I assume, did my neighbours.

It is all much calmer today, though not far from Waterloo I know that Southbank Sinfonia are having their first run through Brindisi.  I sorted out what were hopefully the final details on this yesterday, though there may be some more changes to come if it does not hang together in its first rehearsal.

At least we have time to iron out any wrinkles before the first performance next week, and it is hard to believe that not too long ago I wondered whether this piece would ever come together.  I think I was just too intent on the details and lost sight of the bigger picture.

Talking of the bigger picture:


In exalted company…

I feel that a very gentle shift has happened in terms of my attitude towards composition over the past few months, and I am still not sure what that shift may be.  Whispering at the back of my mind, though, is some kind of calm voice reminding me that maybe I have enough craft to be able to work myself out of the next impasse.



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Posted by Jessica

Baritone Bradley Travis in rehearsal as Siegfried Sassoon

What are the chances of this? You turn up to an adult community chorus workshop to do a session on the work of a particular poet, and someone steps forward and explains he is that poet's great-nephew. That's what happened at the Silver Birch devising workshops, and the said great-nephew of Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Bucknill, is in the chorus for the run at Garsington next week. I took the opportunity to ask him about his links with Sassoon and what it's like to be in the opera.

(Photos are all from a rehearsal the other day.)

JD: Please could you explain in what way you’re related to Siegfried Sassoon? What awareness of his poetry and his significance did you have when growing up? And what does he mean to you today?

SB: My grandfather, Richard Gatty had a sister called Hester. She married Siegfried Sassoon in 1933, 15 years after the end of WW1. Unfortunately I never met Siegfried as he died in 1967, just before my second birthday. So I have no memories of him but can recall a family photograph of him in my grandparents house in North Yorkshire. Before she died, my grandmother, who had known Siegfried from the 1930s onwards, assisted the author Max Egremont with his Sassoon biography. My mother and aunt (who are both coming to Silver Birch) knew Siegfried in his later life and remember him vividly.

Bradley Travis (Siegfried) and Sam Furness (Jack)
When I was growing up I had surprisingly little awareness of his poetry. I just knew that he was one of the war poets, and that I was related to him. We never studied his works at school. It only really dawned on me how famous he was when my sister Gemma contacted me in some excitement to say that she had seen one of his poems on the Underground. When I was next in London I saw the poem 'Everyone Sang' and it deeply moved me. Today, for me, he still provides a link with the past and an insight into the meaning, and effects, of war.

JD: How long have you been singing in the Garsington Adult Community Chorus? What attracted you to join it and what do you enjoy about it?  

SB: My wife Amanda is the Accommodation Co-Ordinator for Garsington and when she heard that Garsington were going to put on a Community Opera in 2013 she encouraged me to take part in it, as she thought they may need an extra tenor. Fortunately they did. The whole experience was amazing - hard work with many long rehearsals and often taking you well out of your comfort zone! The feeling of achievement, with relief and adrenaline after the performances of Road Rage is something I will never forget - and the main reason I had no hesitation in auditioning for Silver Birch.

Sam Furness as Jack, with "Chloe" and "Leo"

JD: What does it mean to you to be in Silver Birch? 

SB: Just very pleased to be involved again. I can't speak highly enough of the people involved at all levels in bringing the production together.

JD: What are its chief challenges and rewards for you as a member of the chorus? 

SB: For me, the chief challenges are getting the music right technically (it's not easy) and then being able to deliver it on the stage along with everyone else. The reward is the feeling of satisfaction when it all goes as it's supposed to!

Composer Roxanna Panufnik talks to the company

JD: Our hero, Jack, takes inspiration from Sassoon in terms of his daring, his disillusionment and in the end his decision that he must help those whose suffering he shares. Do you think the opera and the production is capturing - if tangentially, perhaps - anything of the spirit and/or journey that Sassoon underwent? 

SB: Yes I would say it does - in a very moving way.

JD: We chose several poems by Sassoon for inclusion. What do you think of those choices and do you like the way they have been used?  

SB: The poems seem to fit seamlessly into the opera. 'Everyone Sang' was the first Sassoon poem to deeply affect me, so I am delighted it has been given a special place at the end of the opera.

JD: Are you looking forward to opening night?? 

SB: Yes!


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John Adams: I finished my opera

Jul. 19th, 2017 08:49 am
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Posted by norman lebrecht

The composer tweets: ‘Voila! Completed manuscript of new opera Girls of the Golden West. 2 yrs of panning for nuggets. Time for a break.’

Elsewhere, in an interview with John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune, he sounds gloomier:

‘It can be a challenge to fill those enormous halls with an entire program of just my music,” he said. “I was reminded that classical music is what people say it is, largely music of the past. It takes great time and effort to write music that might have a chance of entering the repertory, eventually.

‘One thing that disturbs me is that the friends I have dinner with — people who bear the same intellectual, social and political interests as I — don’t listen to my music. Very few of them even listen to Beethoven. They listen to — I don’t know — James Taylor or the Gipsy Kings. I realize I travel in a small cultural arena.’


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Posted by norman lebrecht

The Guardian is getting quite heated over the Arts Council’s withdrawal of funding from the Music Venue Trust, which keeps places going for small and esoteric gigs.

Under the headline ‘Small music venues are dying – blame the obsession with classical music‘, today’s rant reads:

The trust argues that while Arts Council England does much to support new music, with money for the internet radio station NTSlive-streaming Boiler Room and contemporary music curators Capsule to name but three, 85% of its music funding has been allotted to opera and classical music, according to the charity, with £96m given to the Royal Opera House alone. With the next round of funding applications in 2022, it’s hard not to foresee that many more small music venues might close in the next four years.


More here.

Salzburg star faces surgery

Jul. 19th, 2017 08:28 am
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Posted by norman lebrecht

Maria Agresta has pulled out of two concert performances of Verdi’s I due Foscari in order to undergo an operation.

Her replacement is the Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

from the BBC:

At least 547 young members of the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir in Germany were subjected to physical and in some instances sexual abuse over a period of 60 years, a new report says.

The report accuses 49 members of the Catholic Church of carrying out the abuse between 1945 and the early 1990s.

More here.

Among the victims who came forward was the eminent conductor Lothar Zagrosek.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

Nasreen Qadri will be on stage with Radiohead in Tel Aviv tonight. Born in Haifa and raised in Lydda, two towns with mixed Jewish-Arab populations, she has issued this rebuttal to the BDS campaign to block Radiohead’s visit:

I am a Muslim Arab woman. I am a singer. And this Wednesday, I will share the stage with Radiohead in their concert.

I was born in Haifa and grew up in Lod—two cities with a mix of Arab and Jewish communities, living side by side. It wasn’t always easy, but my personal experience has taught me that open dialogue is the only way to overcome our differences. Ever since I won a singing competition on Israeli TV, my music and my story have inspired many in Israel to open their minds and hearts to Arabic music and my people’s culture.

I have dedicated my life to music, and dedicated my music to breaking down borders and bringing people closer together. That is why this past year I did what no other Arab-Israeli has done before, and sang in Israel’s official Independence and Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government,” Yorke wrote in response to (Ken) Loach claims. However, I believe that it has everything to do with endorsing its people, and using music to engage with them. After all, if we don’t engage one another, and work together, we will never find peace between us.

This Wednesday, I will also perform alongside one of Israel’s most talented artists, Dudu Tassa—a Jewish singer—to bring a message of co-existence to every corner of the country. The two of us were fortunate enough to be invited by Thom Yorke to tour with Radiohead across the U.S. earlier this year.

Read full article here.

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Posted by norman lebrecht

The Gewandhausorchester has named the Russian violist Elizaveta Zolotova as principal viola after a set of summer auditions.

Born into a Moscow musical family, she has been a regular at Verbier for the past decade and played in the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, She joined the Staatskapelle Dresden as a section player in 2014 and moved to the Gewandhaus last year.


Behind these moves, other wheels were turning.

Last year, the Gewandhaus appointed section player Anton Jivaev to be its principal viola.

Clearly that did not work out. Jivaev, from Uzbekistan, was asked to reapply for his position in this summer’s auditions but chose to return to his former tenured position within the section. Another player in the section then won the audition.

This does not look like a particularly happy outcome.

The Gewandhaus has made no announcement of the new principal viola.

“Containment” by Francesca Bell

Jul. 19th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Timothy Green

Francesca Bell


When the man sat down next to me at Starbucks, need coming off of him like a pheromone, I was quiet, having read, more than once, God save me from the well-meaning white woman, for he was a person of color—I wasn’t sure which color, but not a fucking white person like me—and maybe I was profiling him, maybe I was an asshole and had already offended the black woman who said I could share the table but packed up her things when I sat down, leaving me to chew my dry, multigrain bagel thoroughly like the stereotype it was and read an article about wildfires in Canada and how people watched their homes burn, at a comfortable distance, on cameras linked to their phones, until the man asked quietly, from his place to my side, if I could buy him a cup of coffee, his face open the way a wound is open, soft face about the age of my soft-faced son, and it was Mother’s Day, and I couldn’t escape the bounds of my whiteness, but I worried he was hungry, my son is always hungry, so I said I’d like to buy him something to eat, too, and asked was he okay, and he said he was, but life is strange right now, and I said, yes, isn’t that the truth, and I had an appointment to get to and handed him twenty dollars from the stack in my purse and heard him order coffee and his bagel with cream cheese, and the black woman came back and sat down just as I walked out, my tears overflowing like clichés.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]


Francesca Bell: “I’ve written quite a bit about different mental illnesses, my own and others, and I try to even over-share about it. I had this experience, when my relative was very sick with his bipolar disorder and OCD, I shared about it with a woman that I knew, and she came back to me years later and thanked me. Her daughter had developed OCD, and if it hadn’t been for me, she wouldn’t have known what it was, and she wouldn’t have known what to do. So that’s another thing that we really lose when we don’t talk about it. You can save other people a lot of time and suffering, just sharing your own experience.” (website)

Opera in the City

Jul. 19th, 2017 07:56 am
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Opera in the City
Summer in London seems very much the time for fringe opera productions, showcasing both new composers and new opera talent in existing repertoire, along with the occasional rarity which tempts those opera nerds amongst us. Opera in the City is a new festival, presented by Time Zone Theatre (artistic director Pamela Schermann) at the Bridewell Theatre from 1 - 12 August 2017. They are presenting four different evenings of opera, with an emphasis on rarity and innovation with works by Rimsky Korsakov, Mascagni, Zemlinsky, Simone Spagnolo, and Sarah Toth, as well as a tribute to Mario Lanza.

Rimsky Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, his one-act Pushkin-based opera exploring the apocryphal story that Salieri poisoned Mozart, is being paired with Mascagni's one-act opera Zanetto, exploring the familiar themes of courtesans and lost love! Perhaps more intense, the company is also performing Zemlinsky's Oscar Wilde-based piece A Florentine Tragedy in which a couple discover the erotic power of murder! All three operas are part of Time Zone Theatre's Fin de Siecle project exploring operas written around 1900.

A double bill of a completely different kind is also being presented at the festival when two experimental works, Simone Spagnolo's Even you lights, cannot hear me and Sarah Toth's Nero monologues are performed as a double bill. Spagnolo's work for two opera singers doubling on piano and pebbles merges elements of operatic singing, chamber music and performance art. Sarah Toth's piece, for singer, dancer, piano, and string quartet, draws on material by Monteverdi, Handel, Copland, and György Kurtág to create a multi-art form pastiche chamber opera.

Finally, the festival is also presenting Lanza a tribute to the 1950s singer Mario Lanza.

Full details from the Opera in the City website.


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