Russian Ballets Impress More Than Lindberg’s New Piano Concerto.

March 24, 2015

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Prokofiev, Magnus Lindberg, Stravinsky Yefim Bronfman (piano) London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London 21.3.2015 (RB) Read more

An Outstanding Recital by Hilary Hahn and Cory Smythe Expertly Mixes Classic and Contemporary Music

March 24, 2015

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Schnittke, Cage, David Lang, J.S. Bach, Debussy, Auerbach and Schumann: Hilary Hahn (violin), Cory Smythe (piano), Wigmore Hall London 21.3.2015 (CS) Read more

Fulham Opera Keep Up Standards in Two of Puccini’s  Il Trittico Operas

March 23, 2015

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Puccini, Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi: Soloists and musicians of Fulham Opera, conductors: Michael Thrift (Il tabarro) and Nick Fletcher (Gianni Schicchi), St John’s Church, Fulham, London, 22.3.2015. (JPr)

Photo Gianni Schicchi pic credit Matthew Coughlan and Fulham Opera Oliver Gibbs as Gianni Schicchi surrounded by René Bloice-Sanders (Marco), Roberto Abate (Gherardo), Gemma Morsley (La Ciesca), Mari Wyn Williams (Nella), Henry Grant Kerswell (Simone) and Matthew Kellett (Betto)

Photo Gianni Schicchi pic credit Matthew Coughlan and Fulham Opera
Oliver Gibbs as Gianni Schicchi surrounded by René Bloice-Sanders (Marco), Roberto Abate (Gherardo), Gemma Morsley (La Ciesca), Mari Wyn Williams (Nella), Henry Grant Kerswell (Simone) and Matthew Kellett (Betto)

 
Casts
Michael Dewis: Michele
Mari Wyn Williams: Giorgetta, Nella
Oliver Gibbs: Gianni Schicchi
Roberto Abate: Luigi, Gherardo
Edward Hughes: Tinca, Rinuccio
Henry Grant Kerswell: Talpa, Simone
Rosanne Havel: Lauretta
Amy Payne: Frugola
Gemma Morsley: Ciesca
René Bloice-Sanders: Marco
Matthew Kellet: Betto
Lindsay Bramley: Zita
Mike Bradley: Song Vendor, Lover, Pinellino
Simon Grange: Spinelloccio & Lawyer
Lawrence Halksworth: Guccio
 

Production
Stage Director: Fiona Williams
Lighting Designer: Rose Hockaday
Orchestral Arrangements:  Michael Thrift and Ben Woodward

 

 

The operatic ‘cooperative’ that is Fulham Opera is going from strength to strength and is no longer one of West London’s best kept secrets, based on the good sized audiences that come to its shows at St John’s Church which is close to Fulham Broadway. Everything will be even better when renovations at the church are complete as these seem never-ending and surround the church in hoardings. Everything has moved on from accompanying the singers with an unfortunately ill-tuned piano to creating new arrangements for small ensembles of accomplished instrumentalists; on this occasion there were 10 listed.

Straightaway I can write that in my experience they have done nothing better than this Gianni Schicchi and I doubt it will be a long time before I will enjoy another comic opera quite as much. I repeat a previous mantra that Fulham Opera’s future performances are not to be missed by anyone wanting to hear some good singing and enjoy inventive productions making the best use of an intimate performing space. I also repeat what I have written before  that Ben Woodward (director of music at St John’s Church and founder of Fulham Opera) and his colleagues seem to cherish every pound they get one way or another and put any money they have to very good use. With some experience in putting on these sort of events I do hope that they continue like this and never get over-ambitious.

  One encouraging development is the forthcoming ‘Robert Presley Memorial Verdi Prize’ for singers, with a live public final for those selected and substantial awards of money for the prize winner. My only disagreement with this is that there is no age limit. Unfortunately the opera world is now a fairly ruthless place and when attending the masterclass with Johan Botha in Bayreuth last summer a fine singer was dismissed (though not to her face of course) as having little hope of establishing a significant career because she was now the wrong side of 30!

  So after their enterprising journey through Wagner’s Ring and a fine recent  Falstaff it was time for some Puccini before returning to Wagner with some performances this November of Der fliegende Holländer. The première of Gianni Schicchi as part of Puccini’s triptych Il Trittico – his penultimate work that also included Il tabarro we were given here and Suor Angelica that we were not – took place in New York on 14 December 1918. This was because most of the singers back in Italy were doing military service, and naturally operatic life suffered because of this. The composer had very much wanted his opera to be put on first ‘at home’ especially since he could not travel to the US because it was difficult to get a visa – even had it been safe to travel. In spite of Puccini’s absence, the première of Il Trittico was a great success, especially Gianni Schicchi.

  In Buoso Donati’s room his greedy relatives surround him with prayers while he is dying. They have heard rumours that he has left all he has to some friars of a local monastery. After this proves to be true, the peasant Gianni Schicchi is their only hope. Lauretta, his daughter, is in love with Rinuccio, Buoso’s nephew. Lauretta makes her heartfelt plea (yes, ‘that’ song!) to ask for her father’s help. Schicchi explains the way to alter Buoso’s will. Because no one outside the room apparently knows of Buoso’s death, Schicchi dresses himself in Buoso’s nightclothes, climbs into bed in a darkened room and the notary and two others are called to witness the changes to the testament. ‘Buoso’ now leaves only small items to the relatives and the important possessions to Gianni Schicchi! After the notary leaves, the relatives berate Schicchi. He has reminded the family throughout how seriously the authorities would view their activities if they were to be found out. He suggests to the audience that if they have enjoyed themselves, he may be forgiven for his crime. Rinuccio and Lauretta stay with him whilst everybody else leaves.

  Fiona Williams’s production is the Fulham Opera’s first that I can honestly describe as the ‘real deal’ and while my encouraging past comments might have been influenced too much by all the gung-ho ‘let’s put on a show’ enthusiasm – this was a show worthy of any opera company … anywhere. Admittedly it seemed a homage to Richard Jones, but even his Gianni Schicchi was not quite as funny as this at Covent Garden. It was similarly updated to the mid-1960s with some equally kitsch designs including Richard Jones’ ‘trademark’ flock wallpaper (and a wardrobe!) and some eclectic costumes including miniskirts, as well as, beehive hair and hippies. The sense of the (over)familiar is quickly dispelled by an exuberant ensemble performance with too many marvellous individual contributions to name everyone. Perhaps the bear-like, dishevelled, Henry Grant Kerswell’s Simone and the impressively made-up Lindsay Bramley as the elderly Zita deserve particular mention. Marvellous – and often small – inventive detail delighted as the relatives rummage around the cramped set with its large central bed to search for the will. During the will-reading and without words – moments of genius in music by the composer – the tension is palpable and when the last page is read and it becomes clear only the friars will benefit they are truly apoplectic.

Edward Hughes as Rinuccio seems a tenor of genuine potential and sang an ardent ‘Firenze è come un albero fiorito’ without the full abandon at the end that can only come with more experience. The very pert Rosanne Havel sang a genuinely appealing ‘O mio babbino caro’ and finally on comes Oliver Gibbs as the conniving Schicchi. He was clearly relishing every moment of this fun part and was even given a ‘song and dance’ type of moment in the spotlight with top hat and cane. Gibbs absolutely caught the eye in all he did despite being surrounded by some other wonderful character actor-singers in this tremendously funny performance. If you can still go look out for the surtitles near the end which add greatly to the general hilarity.

  Il tabarro came before the interval. The story is standard operatic fare complete with adulterous wife, a young lover, cuckolded jealous husband and murder. A veritable ‘Death on the Seine’! On Michele’s barge, Luigi and some other stevedores are finishing a job on the boat. Giorgetta, Michele’s beautiful wife, offers them a drink. Michele notices how Giorgetta looks at Luigi and dances with him, while a song-seller peddles his ballads and sings a song that has more than a hint of La bohème to it. Frugola (Ferret), the wife of Talpa the stevedore, arrives with a bag full of odds and ends that she has scavenged. Before he leaves, Luigi arranges a rendezvous with Giorgetta at night – she will light a match as a sign that their meeting will be safe. Michele remembers regretfully how happy they once were and lights his pipe. Thinking he has seen the agreed signal, Luigi boards the barge and Michele seizes him and forces him to confess. Michele then strangles Luigi and when Giorgetta comes on deck he grabs hold of her and pushes her down against her dead lover’s face. He was concealed by ‘The Cloak’ (Il tabarro) under which Michele and Giorgetta snuggled in happier times.

  It is all relentlessly grim and Puccini must have exorcising some demons when he composed this as Kate Hewson’s programme note hinted. The best of the singers was probably Roberto Abate as Luigi who clearly has an almost psychotic desire for the comely Mari Wyn Williams – an almost perfect double for actress Ruth Jones – as Giorgetta. The role requires a Calaf quality in the voice particularly in the high-lying and demanding aria ‘Hai ben ragione’ and there was a lot of promise from Abate here. Amy Payne’s mad Ferret coped well with the quick-fire Italian of her contributions and there was valiant support from Edward Hughes’ drunken Tinca and Henry Grant Kerswell’s lumbering Talpa. Of the even smaller roles, Michael Bradley as the Song Vendor had a very pleasing lyrical tenor voice. Two enthusiastic young children, Anastasia Odusanwo and Ethanael Idowu, obviously enjoyed their brief involvement here, as later, in Gianni Schicchi.

  I thought Mike Dewis was a little too dour as Michele; his voice (and acting) was rather one-dimensional but that might be because Puccini seems to have been somewhat disinterested in the character … and so it is possibly not all the singer’s fault. Nevertheless during one of the best staged fights I have ever seen on stage (all credit to fight director Ronin Traynor) he summoned up some terrifyingly realistic vengeful anger at the very end to despatch love rival Luigi,

Here Fiona Williams didn’t entirely successfully take me from a church in Fulham to a barge moored off the Seine in Paris. It was all too brightly lit and a bit more gloom would have been appropriate for such a dark tale. Once again the completely unsatisfactory nature of this piece is most likely the composer’s fault. Puccini does not make us care sufficiently for Giorgetta’s fate as he might have done in a longer work and neither does he create enough dramatic tension over the short span of this opera. Even more strangely, he gives us typical Puccinian musical climaxes too often and occasionally at totally inappropriate moments.

The new musical arrangements of both operas naturally conveyed more of the ‘real thing’ than a piano ever could and all credit to the arrangers Michael Thrift (Il tabarro) and Ben Woodward (Gianni Schicchi), the musicians and the respective conductors, Thrift himself and Nick Fletcher, for contributing to the excellence of the evening.

&nbs;

At the time of writing this there are two remaining performances. Do go if you can; you will not be disappointed!

Jim Pritchard

For more information about Fulham Opera’s activities go to www.fulhamopera.com and to www.stjohnsfulham.org for details of other musical performances at the church.

 

Consummate Pianistic Artistry from Evgeny Kissin

March 23, 2015

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Beethoven, Prokofiev, Chopin, Liszt. Evgeny Kissin (piano) Barbican Hall, London, 20.3.2015 (RB) Read more

The Composer Dobrinka Tabakova in Conversation with Rob Barnett

March 22, 2015

The Composer Dobrinka Tabakova in Conversation with Rob Barnett

Clipboard Image

The composer Dobrinka Tabakova, who was born in Bulgaria in 1980, was raised from a young age in London and is now a British citizen. In 2013 ECM issued a CD entirely devoted to her music entitled String Paths. It was reviewed by MWI here and here. Otherwise her name and works have appeared alongside those of other composers on mixed recitals on Hyperion, Avie, Oboe Classics and other labels. I discovered her music through an early morning BBC Radio 4 programme in which Clare Balding interviewed walkers across the Sussex South Downs. The music that gripped my attention was Tabakova’s glorious On the South Downs for solo cello, choir and orchestra (2009). This was performed by cellist Natalie Clein with the West Sussex Youth Orchestra and Choirs. This is music top-dead-centre in the English spiritual pastoral tradition as proclaimed by RVW, Finzi and Tippett with a clean cool beauty that freshens and links it with Pärt and Tavener.

Her Concerto for Violoncello and Strings will receive its UK premiere at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival on Saturday 23 May 2015 at St David’s Hall, Cardiff. Details below.

RB Do you think music has importance and if so why and in what way?

DT Naturally, having chosen to make music my life, I feel that it is inseparable from my existence, in that sense it is more than ‘important’ it is ‘vital’. I am grateful for every musician and composer who ever dedicated their life to music and for inspiring me to continue on this wondrous road …

How does Bulgarian musical life and music education compare with the UK music education systems?

I started playing the piano in my home town- Plovdiv with a wonderful teacher, who didn’t mind if I improvised part of the piece I was supposed to have learned that week. I think that was rare and I was lucky, but I took it seriously, which is perhaps why she allowed me some freedom. Growing up, my family and I visited the concert series or opera festival regularly, and there was plenty of music around.  Since the age of 11 I have been in the UK, and my experience with music education has been with this system. The biggest advantage to the system here, or at least my experience of it, was the opportunity to work with musicians very early on. I started studying composition at the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music and we had presentations of our work every term, which meant that we had to find the player(s), work and rehearse with them and be practical about what could be achieved in the given time. This was a great preparation for the realities of being a composer.

What do you think of the UK school system so far as music is concerned?

The best memories of music in school were of singing in the various choirs, madrigal groups, chapel choirs. I’ve experienced both the state and private systems, and ultimately, it was down to the individual teachers who truly made a difference. Although the facilities in the state school were fewer, our singing teacher was passionate about the choir and smaller vocal groups and there was an opportunity for us to perform at assembly and in concerts. The advantage of the private system was the ability to go really in depth with analysing scores, great facilities- an extensive listening library and good pianos to practice on. But, for me, in both cases there was the addition of going to the Junior Academy with extra theory, ear training and private piano lessons. It is so important to give children and young adults the chance to develop skills, keep their concentration at one thing over a longer period of time; our society needs that dedication from each of us, in whatever field. This can only be achieved over time, there are no shortcuts.

Do tell us more about WHY you write music – profession? compulsion? recreation? necessity?

If I could answer that question in words, I’d probably be a writer…

What makes your music distinctive?

For me, it is the music which I would like to hear and I hope that others feel the same.

Do you think music has to be original – if so why and original in what sense?

Originality should come naturally, I feel. Each one of us is original, so what we have to do is find out what we want to say and then try to say it as openly and honestly as we can. If we set out to be original, there is a sense of ‘pleasing’ an unspecified third party and getting their approval, when what really matters is that you are happy with your work, and of course, work hard at it.

Do you have any musical works on which you are still working – work in progress?

Currently I am writing a work for violin, jazz trumpet and chamber orchestra, which will be premiered by Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Orchestra of the Swan in May. The work is inspired by the High Line in New York. May will be a busy month as my Concerto for Cello & Strings will receive its UK Premiere as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival.  I’m looking forward to having my work featured there, it’s always a privilege to experience a large portion of your work and this will be the most intense presentation of my work so far with over 12 pieces performed in just over a week. I am sure it will be inspirational and prepare for the next pieces I shall be working on.

Has the availability of so much music and its wide accessibility – mp3 players etc – had a good or harmful influence?

My instinct tells me that although it’s good to be able to access music from across the world and the ages easily, we are beginning to take the effort, and years of training, that is needed to make music happen in the first place for granted.

Which pieces of popular music mean something to you and why?

Probably the first pop songs I heard were by the Beatles, and we had reels of magnetic tape with all the albums at home. The Let It Be album remains poignant for me, also as the title track became an anthem for the democratic changes in 1989.

How do you square the impulse to create with the necessity to make a living. How do you reconcile these imperatives?

I wish I knew how to answer this question.  I just hope that there will always be a necessity to make music and that somehow there is a way to make a living alongside that too.

Rob Barnett, March 2015

Tabakova’s String Paths have lead her to another concert premiere – this time at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival on Saturday 23 May 2015 when her Concerto for Violoncello and Strings will receive its UK premiere. The soloist will be Kristina Blaumane (cello). This takes place at 7.30 pm in St David’s Hall., Cardiff and the conductor is Kristjan Järvi. The concert also includes two substantial choral-orchestral works by Arvo Pärt as well as one other work by Tabakova: Centuries of Meditations for SATB choir, harp/piano and strings.

You can read and hear more of and about Tabakova at the composer’s website. The web link to the Vale of Glamorgan Festival can be found here.

Up and coming performances at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival:

Fantasy Homage to Schubert (18.3.15, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff)
Frozen River Flows (14.5.15, Dora Stoutzker Hall, Cardiff)
Rhodopa (14.5.15, Dyffryn House, nr St Nicholas)
Spinning a Yarn (14.5.15, Dyffryn House, nr St Nicholas)
Organum Light (15.5.15, St Augustine’s Church, Penarth)
Such Different Paths (20.5.15, St Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major)
Insight (as above)
St John of Rila Troparion (21.5.15, All Saints Church, Penarth)
Of the Sun Born (as above)
Organum Light (22.5.15, Norwegian Church, Cardiff)
Such Different Paths (as above)
Centuries of Mediation (23.5.15, St David’s Hall, Cardiff)
Concerto for Violoncello and Strings (as above)

March 22, 2015

The Composer Dobrinka Tabakova in Conversation with Rob BarnettClipboard Image

The composer Dobrinka Tabakova, who was born in Bulgaria in 1980, was raised from a young age in London and is now a British citizen. In 2013 ECM issued a CD entirely devoted to her music entitled String Paths. It was reviewed by MWI here and here. Otherwise her name and works have appeared alongside those of other composers on mixed recitals on Hyperion, Avie, Oboe Classics and other labels. I discovered her music through an early morning BBC Radio 4 programme in which Clare Balding interviewed walkers across the Sussex South Downs. The music that gripped my attention was Tabakova’s glorious On the South Downs for solo cello, choir and orchestra (2009). This was performed by cellist Natalie Clein with the West Sussex Youth Orchestra and Choirs. This is music top-dead-centre in the English spiritual pastoral tradition as proclaimed by RVW, Finzi and Tippett with a clean cool beauty that freshens and links it with Pärt and Tavener.

Her Concerto for Violoncello and Strings will receive its UK premiere at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival on Saturday 23 May 2015 at St David’s Hall, Cardiff. Details below.

RB Do you think music has importance and if so why and in what way?

DT Naturally, having chosen to make music my life, I feel that it is inseparable from my existence, in that sense it is more than ‘important’ it is ‘vital’. I am grateful for every musician and composer who ever dedicated their life to music and for inspiring me to continue on this wondrous road …

How does Bulgarian musical life and music education compare with the UK music education systems?

I started playing the piano in my home town- Plovdiv with a wonderful teacher, who didn’t mind if I improvised part of the piece I was supposed to have learned that week. I think that was rare and I was lucky, but I took it seriously, which is perhaps why she allowed me some freedom. Growing up, my family and I visited the concert series or opera festival regularly, and there was plenty of music around.  Since the age of 11 I have been in the UK, and my experience with music education has been with this system. The biggest advantage to the system here, or at least my experience of it, was the opportunity to work with musicians very early on. I started studying composition at the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music and we had presentations of our work every term, which meant that we had to find the player(s), work and rehearse with them and be practical about what could be achieved in the given time. This was a great preparation for the realities of being a composer.

What do you think of the UK school system so far as music is concerned?

The best memories of music in school were of singing in the various choirs, madrigal groups, chapel choirs. I’ve experienced both the state and private systems, and ultimately, it was down to the individual teachers who truly made a difference. Although the facilities in the state school were fewer, our singing teacher was passionate about the choir and smaller vocal groups and there was an opportunity for us to perform at assembly and in concerts. The advantage of the private system was the ability to go really in depth with analysing scores, great facilities- an extensive listening library and good pianos to practice on. But, for me, in both cases there was the addition of going to the Junior Academy with extra theory, ear training and private piano lessons. It is so important to give children and young adults the chance to develop skills, keep their concentration at one thing over a longer period of time; our society needs that dedication from each of us, in whatever field. This can only be achieved over time, there are no shortcuts.

Do tell us more about WHY you write music – profession? compulsion? recreation? necessity?

If I could answer that question in words, I’d probably be a writer…

What makes your music distinctive?

For me, it is the music which I would like to hear and I hope that others feel the same.

Do you think music has to be original – if so why and original in what sense?

Originality should come naturally, I feel. Each one of us is original, so what we have to do is find out what we want to say and then try to say it as openly and honestly as we can. If we set out to be original, there is a sense of ‘pleasing’ an unspecified third party and getting their approval, when what really matters is that you are happy with your work, and of course, work hard at it.

Do you have any musical works on which you are still working – work in progress?

Currently I am writing a work for violin, jazz trumpet and chamber orchestra, which will be premiered by Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Orchestra of the Swan in May. The work is inspired by the High Line in New York. May will be a busy month as my Concerto for Cello & Strings will receive its UK Premiere as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival.  I’m looking forward to having my work featured there, it’s always a privilege to experience a large portion of your work and this will be the most intense presentation of my work so far with over 12 pieces performed in just over a week. I am sure it will be inspirational and prepare for the next pieces I shall be working on.

Has the availability of so much music and its wide accessibility – mp3 players etc – had a good or harmful influence?

My instinct tells me that although it’s good to be able to access music from across the world and the ages easily, we are beginning to take the effort, and years of training, that is needed to make music happen in the first place for granted.

Which pieces of popular music mean something to you and why?

Probably the first pop songs I heard were by the Beatles, and we had reels of magnetic tape with all the albums at home. The Let It Be album remains poignant for me, also as the title track became an anthem for the democratic changes in 1989.

How do you square the impulse to create with the necessity to make a living. How do you reconcile these imperatives?

I wish I knew how to answer this question.  I just hope that there will always be a necessity to make music and that somehow there is a way to make a living alongside that too.

Rob Barnett, March 2015

Tabakova’s String Paths have lead her to another concert premiere – this time at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival on Saturday 23 May 2015 when her Concerto for Violoncello and Strings will receive its UK premiere. The soloist will be Kristina Blaumane (cello). This takes place at 7.30 pm in St David’s Hall., Cardiff and the conductor is Kristjan Järvi. The concert also includes two substantial choral-orchestral works by Arvo Pärt as well as one other work by Tabakova: Centuries of Meditations for SATB choir, harp/piano and strings.

You can read and hear more of and about Tabakova at the composer’s website. The web link to the Vale of Glamorgan Festival can be found here.

BRB Demonstrate Conviction in Balanchine and Bintley Ballets

March 21, 2015

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Orff, Serenade/Carmina burana: Birmingham Royal  Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Philip Ellis Conductor – Serenade) and Paul Murphy (conductor) – Carmina burana), London Coliseum, 19.3.2015 (J.O’D)

Photo (c) Birmingham Royal Ballet

Photo (c) Birmingham Royal Ballet

Read more

Maurizio Pollini: The Stamp of Greatness

March 21, 2015

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schumann, Chopin Maurizio Pollini (piano). Royal Festival Hall, London, 17.3.2015 (CC) Read more

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