2014 has been a bit quiet in terms of posts. By which I mean I’ve managed one review. In January. Since then, been to a couple of operas and a handful of Proms, but no time/energy to write about them while still even vaguely fresh in my memory. Also promised two book reviews, which have as yet failed to materialise (although these I can at least reread to refresh). In case one of my very many* readers was concerned, I haven’t been ill (well, no more than usual) or away, just final stages of doctoral thesis taking over my life, followed by job hunting, followed by new job. While playing more operas than I saw, including a Strauss hat trick (go decades having played zero Strauss operas, then three come along in the same year…)

* not very many

Also late posting this term’s concert diary, but hey.

Saffron Opera Group: Meistersinger

Wagner  Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (concert performance)

Time  2.00pm Sunday 14 September

Place  Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, Essex

Edinburgh Players Opera Group: no longer just Wagnerians…

Richard Strauss  Der Rosenkavalier (concert performance)

Time  11.00am Sunday 28 September

Place  Portobello Town Hall, Edinburgh

Tickets  £15 requested donation

Philharmonia Britannica: Great Film Music

Klaus Badelt  Pirates of the Carribean
AJ Lerner & F Loewe  My Fair Lady
John Williams  Star Wars Suite
John Williams  Harry Potter Suite
John Williams  Schindler’s List
H Arlen & EY Harburg  Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Time  6.00pm Saturday 4 October

Place  St John’s Waterloo, SE1 8UD

Tickets  £5, £1 (U19s)

Fulham Opera Orchestral Workshop: Elektra

Two-day orchestral workshop on Richard Strauss’s Elektra, followed by evening play-through. Cast including Zoe South in title role – further info at fulhamopera.com

Time  Saturday 11 – Sunday 12 October

Place  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak NW3 2JP

Tickets  £15/day (participation) or £10 (audience)

Amici Orchestra

Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture
Saint-Saens Symphony No.2
Beethoven Symphony No.4

Time  7.30pm Saturday 1 November

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, SW1V 2AD

No tickets – retiring collection in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Fulham Opera: Falstaff

Verdi Falstaff (fully staged, reduced orchestration)

Time  7.30pm Friday 7 Nov, 5pm Sunday 9 Nov, 7.30pm Friday 14 Nov, 5pm Sunday 16 November

Place  St Johns Church, North End Rd, London SW6 1PB

Tickets  £25 (concessions £20) from fulhamopera.com

Whitehall Orchestra with Idil Biret

Rimsky-Korsakov  Scheherezade
Brahms Piano concerto No.1

Time  7.30pm Saturday 22 November

Place  St John’s Smith Square, SW1P 3HF

Tickets  £8/£10/£12/£15 – book online

Fulham Opera Orchestral Workshop: Siegfried Act 3

One-day orchestral workshop on Wagner’s Siegfried (Act 3), followed by evening play-through. Cast including Jonathan Finney in title role – further info at fulhamopera.com

** PLACES AVAILABLE IN STRINGS AND BRASS (RESERVE LIST FOR WOODWIND) – CONTACT ME IF INTERESTED **

Time  Sunday 7 December

Place  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak NW3 2JP

Tickets  £15 (participation) or £10 (audience)

WORKSHOP with Philharmonia Britannica: Schubert 9

Day workshop on Schubert’s 9th Symphony “The Great”, finishing with an informal performance of the piece.

Time  5.30pm Saturday 11 January

Place  London Welsh Centre, 157-163 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8UE

Tickets  Free entry, exit donation.

** Spaces still available in some sections – message me if interested **

Fulham Opera: Ring Cycles 

See fulhamopera.com for dates/times/prices/casts of individual operas and two full cycles (each over 6 days).

Place  St Johns Church, North End Rd, London SW6 1PB

(NB am only in Siegfried & Götterdämmerung)

Whitehall Orchestra: Beethoven 9

d’Albert  Cello Concerto (with Raphael Wallfisch)
Beethoven  9th Symphony (with Rebecca Goulden, Anna Harvey, Stephen Aviss, Richard Walshe, and The Bach Choir)

Time  7.30pm Saturday 29 March

Place  St John’s Smith Square, SW1P 3HA

http://bit.ly/StJohnsSS

Tickets  £15/£12/£10/£8 – buy online and choose your seat!

PROM 15: Wagner (Die Walküre)

If there is going to be a particularly hot spell in the London summertime, tradition dictates that it will coincide with the Proms season’s most popular concerts. And thus it was this year, with heatwave peaking for the Proms’ first (and entirely sold-out) full Ring Cycle, under Daniel Barenboim. I know a few hardy types who not only did the whole cycle, but with standing tickets, but I’m afraid I just went to one of the four, and got a seat for it. (I did consider doing the lot, but I’m a bit Siegfrieded-out this year, and  Götterdämmerung clashed with another event.) Now, the Albert Hall’s air conditioning has improved considerably in the time I’ve been going there, and the place was pleasantly cool at the start, but over the next few hours it proved no match for the combined heat of a few thousand Wagner fans.

I didn’t care. The performance was fantastic, rising far above any superficial bodily discomfort, and I was so glad I’d gone to hear it in person. I’ve commented before on the special nature of being in the same physical space as live acoustic music, with nothing but vibrating air between the instruments and your ears, and this was a prime example. In some other people’s reviews I’ve read a few negative comments about Barenboim’s extremes of tempo and dynamics, and apparently some kind of intra-orchestral disagreement going on at one point, but no untoward incidents were visible from Row T of the amphi (the area where I’m usually to be found – back centre), and I can report that the dynamics were so perfectly judged – the pps as soft as they could be without ever slipping into inaudibility – that they must have had somebody in the back row for the soundcheck. As for the tempi, well, with such beautifully-realised orchestral colours and textures, who wouldn’t want to luxuriate a little? I didn’t mind.

I won’t go into great detail about individuals, but can report that (IMO) Bryn Terfel still owns Wotan, Nina Stemme is a totally kickass Brunnhilde, Eric Halfvarson continues to do a good line in Nasty Bass roles, and Ekaterina Gubanova’s lovely tone and expressive, musical phrasing almost won me over to the frequently-dislikeable Fricka. Anja Kampe and Simon O’Neill were solid as the star-crossed twincest couple.

Orchestra prize of the night is for the delicious solos of the Staatskapelle Berlin’s cor anglais player (NB: Anyone know the name, so I can include it? I didn’t have a programme), with bass clarinet and oboe as runners up. Piccolos – very nice, but I wanted to hear MORE of you in the mix. Anyway, big hugs to all.

PSM 2: Britten, Tippett, Holst and Berkeley

I’m not the biggest fan of strings-only music, but if I’m going to listen to the stuff, I think I want it played by the Britten Sinfonia. Let me clarify that. Listening to consort music, where you have a bunch of basically the same instrument in different sizes, whether it’s strings, recorders, saxophones, or whatever, is like watching black and white films. Yes, it can be very beautiful, and there have certainly been some masterworks created in that medium… but colour is important to me, and after a while I find myself yearning for a splash of red, or an instrument from a different family. Does that make sense?

Nevertheless, the BS strings (under Sian Edwards) combined careful attention to detail with such vibrancy, and precision with verve, that I didn’t mind at all that they’d left the other half of the orchestra at home. First up was Britten’s Prelude and Fugue – a new piece to me, but an instant hit. (In fact, weirdly, it sounded almost exactly the kind of music I was unsuccessfully attempting to compose while at university, until the composition tutor told me not to bother.) Holst’s St Paul’s Suite – ach, they really did their best to give the thing life, but it’s just dull music. I do not like a folksy jig (well, unless I’m one of the ones playing it, and it’s being taken insanely fast – at which point they can become quite fun). The last string piece, Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli was a bit clever-clever, but did contain some lovely bits, particularly in the duets between leader and principal 2nd (I think – again, no programme, no names).

And the vocal works, where I got my wish of something non-stringed thrown into the mix. Lennox Berkeley’s Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila really do deserve to be played more often, and what a great piece is Britten’s Phaedra! Sarah Connolly, whom regular readers will know I like quite a lot, really has become Queen of psychologically-troubled classical anti-heroines. Taking a day out in between her Glyndebourne performances as Rameau’s version of the role (Phèdre, in Hippolyte et Aricie) (read her talking about it here), in 15 brief minutes, she nailed the character in all her splendidly violent emotions. It’s not often I leave a concert and can’t wait to hear a piece all over again, but thanks to the magic of BBC iPlayer, on this occasion I can do so. And suggest you do the same, while it’s still up.

PROM 34: Vivaldi (The Four Seasons)

This. Yes.

All of the good things about Nigel Kennedy concerts, and none of the bad. Spirited iconoclastic solo and orchestral playing, a fresh and unique twist on a long-beloved piece (with lots of additional material, but – importantly – no movements left out), proof of the existence of that rare thing: Good Crossover music, no bloody electric violin in earshot, and minimal talking. Loved it.

My full review is here.

* There was a bit of talking, but it was right at the end. And some guy in the audience shouted “bollocks” loudly in the middle. Did you hear that on the radio, or did they do a quick edit? (I don’t know if he objected to the vague political sentiment being expressed, had Tourette’s, or was just worried it was going to turn into a 20-minute monologue and wanted to hear more music.)

Prom 55: Lutosławski, Shostakovich & Panufnik

Surprisingly, this was the Warsaw Philharmonic’s first visit to the Proms, invited as part of this year’s focus on Polish music. About time too, one might say, and particularly so with it being both Lutosławski’s centenary year (and almost Panufnik’s too, shy by a year), and this the farewell concert of outgoing Artistic Director of twelve years, Antoni Wit. It was also only right that they should debut with Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, composed specially for this orchestra – well, an earlier generation – in the 1950s, and they brought a proprietary authority to the work, from the driving timpani thumps of the opening. Lutosławski here uses melodic material from the Polish folk music tradition, but within the context of a highly-structured compositional form, with more than a nod to Bartók and Stravinsky. This was a high-definition performance which paid great attention to all the fine details of phrasing, dynamics, colour combinations and textural contrast, without ever compromising on overall shape or momentum… [read more here]

Prom 67: Pärt, Britten, Berlioz & Saint-Saëns

Tonight’s Orchestre de Paris Prom was very much a concert of two halves, in the first of which they got to show their sensitive, introspective side, reflecting on the nature of life and lamenting too-early death, then becoming considerably more extrovert in the second for some free-spirited buccaneering, and what the programme notes describe as “vivid, prolonged and grand noise”. It was, in fact, rather like attending two short concerts back-to-back – and both equally good, in their different ways.

The first half consisted of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten and a work by Britten himself, the Violin Concerto – a perfect pairing…   [read more here]

Fulham Opera: Siegfried

Fulham Opera begin 2013 and continue their mandate of “Big Opera on a Small Scale” with the third opera in their unique portrayal of the Ring Cycle: Siegfried. An innovative staging by Max Pappenheim keeps the audience once again right in the centre of this most intimate of Wagner’s operas.

Time  6.00pm, Tue 12 / Fri 15 / Sun 17 February

Place  St John’s Church, Fulham, SW6 1PB

Tickets  and further details at fulhamopera.com

Philharmonia Britannica: Tosca

Two semi-staged performances of Puccini’s dramatic masterpiece sung in Italian. The action takes place over 24 hours in June 1800 and is dominated by the police chief Scarpia, who rules Rome with an iron rod on behalf of the King of Naples. But Rome is now threatened by Napoeleon’s invasion. Into this politically charged and bloody story Puccini poured some of his best-known lyrical arias, with wonderfully evocative orchestration.

Time  7.30pm, Sat 16 / Sun 17 March

Place  St John’s Church, Waterloo,  SE1 8TY
http://bit.ly/StJohnsWaterloo

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)  and further details at ph-br.co.uk

Whitehall Orchestra

Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, Chausson’s Poeme for violin and orchestra, and finishing with the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony No 3. Our leader Nathaniel Vallois will be the violin soloist and we are delighted to be joined again by David Bednall on the organ.

Time  7.30pm, Thursday 21 March

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  £9 (£6 concs)

Philharmonia Britannica

Ethel Smyth: Overture & On the Cliffs of Cornwall (from ‘The Wreckers’)
Elgar: Cello Concerto (with Jonathan Ayling)
George Lloyd: Symphony No 6

Time  7.30pm, Saturday 26 May

Place  St John’s Church, Waterloo,  SE1 8TY
http://bit.ly/StJohnsWaterloo

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)

New London Opera Group

Gilbert & Sullivan: Utopia Ltd.

Time  7.30pm, Thu 14 / Fri 15 / Sat 16 June

Place  Riverhead Theatre, Louth, Lincolnshire

Tickets  and further details at www.newlog.org.uk

Whitehall Orchestra

In this Olympic year, we are delighted to welcome back the renowned Turkish pianist, Idil Biret. She will be performing Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto (popularly known as the Emperor Concerto). (You can find out more about Idil at www.idilbiret.eu). We will also be performing the “Planets Suite” by Holst.

Time  7.30pm, Saturday 7 July

Place  St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
http://bit.ly/StJohnsSS

Tickets  £15/£12/£10 (concessions £12/£10/£8)

Philharmonia Britannica

The silent film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ was watched by half the British population when it came out in 1916. We will be screening this extraordinary film, on loan from the Imperial War Museum, accompanied by a live performance of the evocative score written by Laura Rossi.
Further info: http://www.laurarossi.com/live-music-to-silent-film/somme/

Time  7.30pm, Saturday 25 February

Place  St John’s Church, Waterloo,  SE1 8TY
http://bit.ly/StJohnsWaterloo

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)

Fulham Opera

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, sung in English, in Fiona Williams’s new edgy translation, set in 1960s London. With the Fulham Opera Chamber Orchestra, in a new orchestration by Ben Woodward.

Time  8.00pm, Tue 20 / Wed 21 / Fri 23 / Sun 25 March

Place  St John’s Church, North End Road, Fulham, SW6 1PB

Tickets  and further details at www.fulhamopera.com

Whitehall Orchestra

Tchaikovsky’s stirring 4th symphony, paired with two pieces by Walton – his popular coronation march ‘Crown Imperial’, and his violin concerto, played by our leader Nathaniel Vallois.

Time  7.30pm, Thursday 29 March

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  £9 (£6 concessions), with group discounts available

Carl Nielsen had an exceptional understanding of the nuances of woodwind instruments, and when playing the parts he wrote for flautists, the affection is almost palpable. Towards the end of his composing career, he thought of different orchestral instruments as having distinct personalities, and composed their interactions accordingly. While Nielsen may have once said that “the composer has had to follow the mild character of the instrument” (source: The Carl Nielsen Society), and while there were certainly periods in his Flute Concerto in which the flute floats tranquillo above the rabble, there are also moments of impatient spikiness, and the liquid, sinuous cadenzas – as played by LSO principal Gareth Davies – contained bursts of fire… [read more here]

Programme

Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin (Suite)
Nielsen: Flute Concerto
Zemlinsky: Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid)

Performers

London Symphony Orchestra, Xian Zhang (conductor), Gareth Davies (flute)