Saturday, 11 December 2010
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Tonight at Rich Mix in Shoreditch (no I've never heard of it before either) she performed - sometimes in person, sometimes on a pre-prepared recording - a selection of electronic plainchants some of which were beautifully effective. Jamie Telford's Gaudiamus Lixenburgos was particularly engaging. Based on a 16th century round multi-tracked by Lixenberg, he enveloped this celebration of Spring with wonderful bursts of colour by cleverly distorting the vocal line.
The remaining pieces lacked the same coherence as the Telford, coming dangerously close to unyielding wallpaper music.
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
The programme's premise, devised by David Buckley, a former Wells Cathedral chorister who now writes film scores in Hollywood, was that most of these outrageously ambitious works didn't stem from composers' God fearing devotion but rather as a consequence of challenges they set themselves 'after a session or two in the local tavern'.
If that's the case, I'd love to know what kind of state Thomas Tallis must have been in to come up with his audacious Spem in Alium, a motet scored for 40 individual parts, divided into eight choirs of five voices each.
Holding scores the size of The Guardian, the vocal ensemble Armonico Consort, boosted by the rather worried looking choir of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, made sure the occasion didn't go to waste by singing it twice. Forming a large square that took in the Cadogan Hall's auditorium and stage, the different choirs passed the music around with seamless ease thanks in no small part to the cool head of conductor Christopher Monks.
If there was a pervading tentativeness about about the evening, not helped by the hall's airless acoustic, it was still a terrific display of choral bravery that any self-respecting early music nut would have lapped up.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
On the bill last night, sets (do classical singers do sets?) from the tenor Marcus Farnsworth, followed by the American countertenor Gerald Thompson. Both took advantage of the informality of the venue by spending time explaining the background to the works they were singing. In turn, the music felt that bit more inviting than usual. Great stuff.
After the interval (during which Annie Lennox was needlessly pumped over the PA system - come on, surely this audience can get by without superfluous white noise?), the Swingle Singers entertained with their usual brand of annoying yet brilliant a cappella singing. Annoying because there's unrelenting heartiness to their duffy duffy do-do sound, brilliant because they do what they do so well. I was completely disarmed by a James Taylor song from their new album called On The 4th Of July.
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Monteverdi's Flying Circus/Bridge House Theatre, Warwick, The Reservoir Frogs/West Reservoir, Alfred/Kings Place
My music event of the year thus far was the debut of Reservoir Frogs at the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington. This very fine soul band - made up of members of the Mike Flowers Pops, Faithless, Dream Topping and the Highbury Soul Band - played a brass heavy set to a small but select crowd at a former pumping room whose boomy acoustic probably ensured the sound carried a lot further than the the next door Pirates' Playhouse. Will they return though, that's what I want to know. Any offers of work gratefully received. Here's a clip:
Finally, good to see Ian Page, artistic director of the Classical Opera Company score a hit with Thomas Arne's Alfred at the Kings Place last night. Arne was a contemporary of Handel's which, alas, has made him a bit of an also ran in the history of English music. But, as COC brilliantly demonstrated, he did write some lovely stuff, including the opera/masque Alfred.
The talents of Page's young cast outshone the quaint and unintentionally funny libretto - spoken by a magisterial Michael Maloney - that concluded with a sprightly 'Rule Britannia', as far removed from the lazy jingoism it is now associated with.
Monday, 20 September 2010
I can see why. £5 at the door, some cracking tunes with the ever soulful Barbar Gough on vocals, this has to be one of the capital's best musical bargains. I'm only sorry John Bennett's attempt to pull off a similar residency in Hoxton never took off. Sarf London 1 - North London 0.
Friday, 17 September 2010
Monday, 13 September 2010
The most alarming thing to come out of this discussion was to hear Miranda Sawyer wonder why she had to keep so quiet at a classical concert she once went to. I know she takes her music very seriously but when you hear a top music critic come out with comments like that you realise what a disconnect there is between the pop/rock world and classical music. If I was being unkind, I would ask whether she actually listens to music beyond the noise it makes?
Friday, 3 September 2010
Sometimes Zander would break off from conducting and make the students dance or sing in an attempt to acquire some unique insights into a particular work, and to make them less intimidated by the experience.
The classes were done in a spirit of fun quite at odds with the severe, almost intimidating image conductors have in the popular imagination. While there are plenty of authoritarian figures out there (no names mentioned) it’s certainly not a recognisable stereotype for many younger conductors coming through.
And yet it’s a myth that shows little sign of diminishing. Take the BBC’s recent programme on conducting. It was called ‘Maestro’, an Italian word meaning ‘master’ or ‘teacher’ but has these days become universal shorthand for someone (usually a conductor) with an almost unworldly musical prowess, surely the very opposite of what the BBC was trying to convey. Indeed as far as the media is concerned, anyone who has had a modicum of success on the podium is now branded a maestro no matter how well deserved. This only strengthens the old refrain that classical music is elitist because it suggests it has to be passed down to an audience by an Italian speaking grandee.
Nor is maestro an accurate description of what most conductors do, or should do. As Ben Zander kept saying at his master class, the best conductors aren’t there to stamp their authority on players but to engage with them, many of whom share as much, if not more, musical expertise, and to harness their talents for the greater good.
Yes, there are some great conductors out there with brilliant artistic vision that are fully deserving of praise. But doesn’t the word ‘maestro’ take things a little too far? Conductors are conductors – some good, some not so good – who already have big enough egos not to have this extra ounce of flattery imparted by this word.
So next time you have the urge to call someone maestro remember what it means in English. Would you really call someone ‘master’? Of course you wouldn’t, unless you wanted to sound like a complete fool.
The Proms season has reignited the debate about clapping in between the movements of a symphony or concerto, a trend very much on the increase. It’s hard to tell whether this is a consequence of the way classical music is presented in bite size chucks on radio stations like Classic FM, or a wider example of audience power, happy to cast aside outdated conventions.
Some say it breaks the music’s spell while others, including performers like violinist Daniel Hope, positively welcome it. It’s not something that keeps me awake at night but an easy way to settle the matter would be for the conductor or soloist to ask the audience to refrain from applauding until the end of the work. Otherwise those who want to clap should feel perfectly entitled to do so.
Staying with the Proms, it’s great to see the number of child-friendly events on offer from the hugely popular Dr Who Prom to the Family Music events at the Royal College of Music. So why not go the extra mile and have children’s concerts at RAH every Saturday morning during the Proms season? It would be a very welcome throw back to the Robert Mayer Concerts of my youth, a music series founded by the German born philanthropist whose Saturday morning concerts filled the Festival Hall week in week out for many years.
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
I couldn't tell you whether hosting at this venue, famed for its Northern Soul nights, has tempted new audiences through the door but it certainly offers the listener a very rewarding intimacy unmatched by more conventional confines including the Wigmore Hall.
And so it was the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra performed a multi-coloured interpretation of Vivaldi's Four Seasons complete with barking fiddle players, a castanet touting percussionist and other accompanying sound effects. They were followed by Norway's other great cultural export, Leif Ove Andsnes who performed Chopin to a rapt audience. Even the queue for the bar seemed to evaporate once he began playing.
I'd be surprised if more people didn't climb on the band-wagon that Limelight and others have started. Once experienced, you wonder why you haven't had your classical music served up like this before. It's an experiment the good people at the Proms would do well to consider.
Monday, 23 August 2010
Sunday, 22 August 2010
My guest appearance with Johnny and the Bees was pleasingly early in the day and despite a few syncronisation issues among the band, it passed off without incident, or applause. Good fun tho..
Described as an opera laboratory, the Tete a Tete Opera Festival features new and innovative drama and storytelling driven by music and the voice. It's all a bit random which makes this festival so intriguing. I could have done without the shapeless mortuary gloom of Robert Hugill's When a Man Knows (when an opera begins with the words 'You Fucking Bastard', you know you're in for a long evening).
Things vastly improved with Gutter Press, a witty satire on the paparazzo and starlets with an interesting twist in the tale. The show's writer, James Richards has described it as an operusical, an interesting concept but ultimately too ambiguous an idea. Far better would be for Richards' composing partner, Fergal O'Mahony to work-up some hits from his lively score to give Gutter Press any real chance of commercial success.
Monday, 19 July 2010
On show last night were works by Handel and Pergolesi plus a couple of pieces from a collection of manuscripts, unheard since their composition, that have been in the keep of the descendants of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. This included Numi, numi pietosi by Hurka de Monti (c.1753-1823), an Austro-Hungarian who became a piano tuner in Glasgow, and When Saul was King over us by Giovanni Battista Bononcini (1670-1747, an Italian brought to London by the Duke of Burlington where he composed several operas for Handel's Royal Academy of Music before leaving for Vienna where he apparently died in poverty.
Lovely though they were, with some very assured solos from various members of the choir, they were easily eclipsed by Monteverdi's Love Madrigals that followed. I'd only ever heard these sung by a small ensemble before but strangely in the hands of a large choir, Monteverdi's exquisite harmonies felt more succulent and exciting.
The highlight was Mike Brewer's piece Amore Vittorioso, especially commissioned by Voce, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's setting of the Vespers. It was a stunning piece, imagine a 16th century madrigal on LSD, with two trumpeters crowning the work with Monteverdi like fanfares.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
This week the BBC Proms launches a new season of mouth watering concerts with some of the biggest names in the classical world. It’s a pity then that the venue – the Royal Albert Hall – does not match up to the quality of the music making. So says Mathew Tucker who says it's time to think the unthinkable about the world’s greatest music festival.
The Proms are special. I still remember the transformative effect my first visit to the Royal Albert Hall had on me back in 1982. A mate and I travelled up from Sussex to hear the Philharmonia and the pianist Yefim Bronfman play Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Back then we had time to spend most of the day queuing for the all standing arena and we were rewarded with places right at the front. So close were we to the stage that we got the giggles watching Bronfman’s facial contortions as he sprinted towards the end of the concerto. Laughter aside, I was bowled over by what I heard – the piano’s opening run followed by the brass fanfare convinced me I should go to music college.
Since then I have made a point of clocking into the Proms every summer. The staggering range of concerts from the world’s finest bands, conductors, soloists and singers night after night is probably one of the best reasons for living in the UK.
These days though I’m far more likely to listen to the Proms on the radio than I am hearing them in the flesh. There are practical reasons for this but mainly it’s because I don’t think the Prom’s home, the Royal Albert Hall, is a good enough venue. I have always tried to put my misgivings about the building to one side by making a virtue of the Albert Hall’s iconic status. But I’ve traipsed over to West London on too many occasions only to hear music die in the hall’s cavernous space before it has a chance to make an impact on the audience. Instead of leaving uplifted, I make the lonely trek back to South Kensington tube feeling frustrated, confident in the knowledge that in any other concert hall the music would have been served so much better.
Don’t get me wrong, for certain things the RAH is perfect. Raymond Gubbay’s operas make magnificent use of the hall’s interior, and its Victorian opulence really suits the glamour of the Classical Brits. Rightly or wrongly both these events are amplified so there’s no danger of missing anything (even if you want to). But for classical music served up acoustically like it is at the Proms, the building is simply not fit for purpose.
The usual retort about the RAH’s acoustical short comings is that it depends on where you stand or sit. If you are lucky enough to get a decent spot in the arena the power of the music can be overwhelming (as I can testify). And I can’t think of anything more serene than lying in the gallery that runs round the top of the dome with choral music wafting up from below. So the RAH does have its benefits but for the majority of the audience the sound quality is too hit and miss and that, for the world’s greatest music festival, is nothing short of shameful.
So what am I proposing? Of course in some far off utopia the ideal would be for a purpose built concert hall for the Proms, perhaps with the Prommers themselves raising some of the cash and co-owning the venue with whoever else is able to stump up the money. But that’s a pipe dream, especially in the current financial climate. No, my solution is quite simple. We swap the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Festival Hall. Here’s why.
Its central location next to the River Thames is second to none with easy links to and from London. There are things to do before and after concerts with shops, restaurants, art galleries and theatres on the doorstep (not to mention the London Eye).
But the best reason is the Royal Festival Hall and the rest of the Southbank Centre itself. Here you have one of the most well-defined and exciting cultural centres on the planet. Just imagine how well the Proms with all its increasing ambitions and variety would utilise the different venues at the Southbank – the Festival Hall for the main concerts, the Queen Elizabeth Hall for late night stuff, the Purcell Room for chamber music. Then there are all of the Festival Hall’s other spaces perfect for workshops, free music and talks. And let’s not also forget the areas outside the building that brim with possibilities.
I can already hear opponents of this idea sharpening their knives. Haven’t you over looked something? Can you actually stand – or should I say Prom – in the Festival Hall? Well no, you can’t, at least not at the moment. But assuming the BBC continues to underwrite the event, there’s no reason to believe ticket prices would be any less of a bargain. There may be fewer available – the RFH’s capacity is 2500 compared to the RAH’s 5550 - but apart from appearances by the likes of the Berlin Philharmoniker and the Last Night of the Proms, it’s still a rare thing to see the Royal Albert Hall bursting at the seams. Surely the Festival Hall’s superior acoustic is a price worth paying for some reduction in seats (which, incidentally, are far more comfortable). For those unable to get into the blockbuster events it would still be possible to experience and savour the occasion on a big screen in the Festival Hall’s ballroom. It works at Wimbledon, why not at the Proms?
But the Proms and the Royal Albert Hall are so intertwined, it’s become a tradition say RAH loyalists. Yet the Proms began life at the Queen’s Hall in 1895 followed by a brief residency at the Bedford Corn Exchange during the Second World War before the Royal Albert Hall became the regular fixture. So it’s not a relationship set in stone. And if tradition is so important, the Royal Festival Hall was the centrepiece of that most inclusive event of them all, the 1951 Festival of Britain which brought music and arts into the lives of ordinary people. This legacy far better represents the Proms democratic ethos than the quaint Victoriana of the Royal Albert Hall.
I believe it’s time to drop our sentimental attachment to the Royal Albert Hall and move the Proms Eastwards to London’s South Bank where its long-term future should lie. Focused in one place in the heart of the capital would give the organisers many more opportunities to expand the Proms remit and encourage a far greater – and diverse – audience with classical music still at the very core of things. Best of all, the music would sound better. And that for me is what the Proms are all about, hearing music.
Friday, 25 June 2010
Composed when he was only 23, Mozart wrote about seventy minutes worth of music set to a German text (his father thought this would play well with Emperor Joseph II who wanted to start a German-language opera company in Vienna) before putting it aside when the commission for Idomeneo came in.
There have been various stabs at reviving the opera ever since but attempts at staging a complete version have been rare, until now thanks to COC's artistic director Ian Page. Cleverly picking other works by Mozart from around the time he wrote Zaide, Page has concocted a finished Zaide with a new English libretto by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts.
Were this a purely musical exercise then Page's experiment would have paid off. The problem though is the spoken dialogue that links the different arias - melodram, a sort of precursor to sung recitative - provided by Ben Power and the opera's director Melly Still. Totally melodramatic in the modern sense, not even the world's greatest actor would have done justice to this clunky sub-comic book text which comes dangerously close to undermining Page and Symmons Roberts' efforts.
It would have been much better - and fairer on the singers - if this role had been taken by a narrator as has been the convention in past. That way the production team would have been spared the audience's embarrassed titters and we could have all got home a lot quicker. The 19 bus is notoriously infrequent at that time of night.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
After the interval Gilchrist was joined by the French Horn player Michael Thompson for Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. Thompson was note-perfect, no mean feat in this fiendishly difficult work, but at times seemed overly cautious that he down played some of work's drama, particularly in the opening introduction. But I'm being ever so picky. If you were looking for a patriotic glow that night, this was the place to be.
Ronnie Scott's reassuringly retro interior suits the sound and style of London jazz man Ray Gelato and the Giants, a slick ensemble that wouldn't look out of place in a Scorsese film. Even Gelato's jokes have the tinge of a bygone era; 'have you heard Lionel Richie has converted to Islam? His new record is called Halal, is it meat you're looking for'...even the stoney faced stag party in front of me laughed at that one.
Sweet Charity. I want to learn the Frug..possibly the silliest and sexiest dance of them all. Great show.
Saturday, 12 June 2010
I write this with a head like a small hospital. That's what happens when you get a little too enthusiastic about the return of the Mike Flowers Pops. If you remember, Mike Flowers (AKA Mike Roberts) was the figurehead of a weird easy listening revival in the mid-nineties when it became OK to say you liked Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb. Flowers lead from the front with a cheesy cover version of Oasis's Wonderwall that almost reached the number 1 spot. In those days I used to catch him and the Pops in places like Madam Jo Jo's in Soho with a bunch of thirty somethings as we danced away to classics like 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' and 'Up Up and Away' and bloody good fun it was too.
Both got a welcome airing at his return gig last night at the London Leisure Centre, a venue that is, according to its website,'situated in the heart of the historic city of London, UK, within a building that dates back to 1968'. Others know it as the St. Aloysius Social Club, a rather unassuming ballroom and bar in the basement of a Catholic Church in Camden.
Its faded decor lent itself nicely to the evening's retro feel which opened with a set from Rory More at the Lowrey organ. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of the Lowrey organ before last night. It's a kind of smoother version of the Hammond that was originally manufactured for the home entertainment market. This might explain why it never took off in the rock world although apparently Paul McCartney used it for the opening of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Betcha didn't know that. Mind you, as Rory More demonstrated last night, when linked to a Leslie cabinet the Lowrey can really pack a punch. His up-tempo version of Francis Lai's theme from Un Homme et Une Femme was very lush and sexy and on the basis of that alone I'd buy one straight away if I had the money and space.
Rory More's turn (we had a short interlude while he fixed the E on his Heritage Deluxe model) was followed by the Mike Flowers Pops who, like Mike Flower's wig, haven't lost any of their lustre. Boy, did us forty somethings love it.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
Monday, 5 April 2010
Thursday, 1 April 2010
Monday, 29 March 2010
Saturday, 27 March 2010
Sunday, 14 March 2010
To Blackpool to film a ghost train. Actually it's still only a shed but work is well underway on Marisa Carnesky's forthcoming attraction which should be, all things being equal, a very welcome addition to Blackpool's sea front. It's a bold and slightly left field take on the traditional ghost train that draws on Carnesky's Jewish roots. Having done the rounds (quite literally) for a few years Carnesky has never been able to find a permanent home for it until now thanks to Blackpool Council. The trouble is there are many in the town who think far too much money has been spent setting it up so there is an enormous pressure on her, and the council, for the ride to deliver when it opens on Good Friday. Anyway, I'm filming this story as it unfolds.
Caught The Review Show - 'from Glasgow' - last night. I don't know what the significance of 'from Glasgow' was because it could have been a studio discussion from anywhere. The only Scottish element was some poor singer from Scottish Opera who, after Martha Kearney's fumbled introduction, sang an aria from La Boheme, accompanied by someone on one of those lifeless electronic keyboards. I suppose once you've flown up six English contributors, provided them with overnights, meals etc, there probably isn't much left in the budget for a half decent piano. Ironically, the overriding theme of tonight's show was climate change.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Friday, 19 February 2010
Saturday, 13 February 2010
Evening, the splendidly ornate 1901 Club in Waterloo was hosting Simon Hewitt Jones' Music in the City soiree. I'd missed most of the music making by the time I arrived but there were still plenty of bright young things to chat to and an enormous chocolate cake to eat. Good old Simon, God knows how he finds the energy to run this and play the fiddle and keep Musbook.com bobbing along. He should get an award. I left just as he launched into Mendelssohn's Octet, a fine way to complete an extremely rewarding day of gadding about.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
The very English first half was followed by three American offerings, Duet by Reich (whose music never sounds as convincing when performed along side other people's stuff), Nico Muhly's Impossible Things, a very assured piece that added some dark dimensions to poems by C.P Cavafy and carried off beautifully by Mark Padmore again, and finally John Adams Shaker Loops, that worked itself into a stunning frenzy. A 21st century classic. .
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Monday, 25 January 2010
The concert concluded with Steve Reich's City Life which sounded a little pedestrian by comparison. But it soon found its noisy New York groove, serving as a useful reminder the debt the promising Muhly owes to the elder statesman of American music.
The Roundhouse is used for the BBC's Electric Proms. How about using it for the Proms proper? As was clearly demonstrated last night, there is a large and mostly young crowd out there with broad tastes who like new music and ideas for the sake of it. Maybe the Proms should think of ways to cater for this audience who thankfully don't seem to have hang-ups about music categorisation.