And piano makes five


Hot on the heels of my recent review of Dave Camwell’s Timescape comes this week’s offering – a review of a CD of Piano Quintets by Rubinstein and Rimsky-Korsakov on the Brana label, featuring the late Polish-Brazilian pianist Felicja Blumental and members of the New Philharmonia Wind Ensemble. Both works were completely new to me, and both were scored for the unconventional piano quintet forces of piano, flute, clarinet, bassoon and French horn rather than piano plus string quartet. It was a pleasant discovery, and if you’re interested you can read what I had to say about Piano Quintets by Rubinstein and Rimsky-Korsakov in the 2014 Reviews section of this blog site.

I must say I’ve really enjoyed my return to music reviewing after a six month ‘sabbatical’, listening to new sounds with an analytical ear and trying to find the right words to convey the wonder that is music. While I continue to enjoy writing website copy and regular news items for Andy Scott, the last ‘writing’ I did in my teaching job was some lyrics to Soul Bossa Nova based on various dinosaurs! After today it will be back to saxophone recordings for the next few reviews, so for any saxophonists and saxophiles out there, please watch this space…


Sounds across the Centuries


I’ve just posted my latest CD review in the 2014 Reviews section of this site. This comes after a break of several months as CD reviewing has unfortunately had to be relegated to the back burner while I was developing my new teaching career. With the challenges of teaching Whole Class Ensemble, a long commute down the M1 and learning new instruments (not simultaneously), there has sadly not been time for writing anything other than To Do lists and lesson plans! Anyway, the good news is that the teaching is off to a cracking if tiring start – two and a half terms in and so far so good – so I’m now hoping to catch up gradually with the backlog of CDs for review.

I’ve started with American saxophonist Dave Camwell’s Timescape, which has been sitting on my desk and burning a hole in my conscience for some time! This is a great CD, which should have wide appeal to saxophiles and anyone with an interest in classical music in all its wonderful forms. The album explores a thoughtfully programmed range of excellent music from across the centuries from the Baroque to the present day, linked by common threads of structure, sound and mood. Click to read my review of Timescape to find out more…

Lost in Sunken Garden


It’s taken a while to be able to find the right words for this post – you know how sometimes when you experience something so amazing it can leave you speechless… Well I experienced Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden while in Amsterdam for a few days of Kulture with a Kapital K a couple of months ago and was lucky enough to obtain returned tickets at the box office on the night. To put this in context, I’d already attended two other strong performances – Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Muziektheater and the new John Adams oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary at the Concertgebouw – but I was ready for more!

I’d first encountered the music of Dutch composer and director Michel van der Aa by chance on the wireless – my usual diet of Radio 3 – and made a note of his name on the iPhone list app. So when I discovered that his new opera-film / film-opera Sunken Garden was going to be on in Amsterdam as part of the Holland Festival I was desperate to get to see it.

And it certainly didn’t disappoint! My immediate reaction was that it was the most powerful and moving performance that I’d ever seen, and now even after several weeks have passed I still feel the same. And I’ve seen a few! This was a new concept, blending 3D film with live opera, with the film projected in various ingenious ways on to the set, and live characters interacting with others living in the film. It must have taken quite a special creative imagination to come up with the idea, let along to bring it to realisation, and it was done brilliantly.

It was a stunning production in every way. The parts were well cast, with some extremely well observed character cameos, and the singers, including the ubiquitous and excellent Roderick Williams in the live lead, performed to perfection. The music itself was fantastic, with a similar mix of live musicians (Amsterdam Sinfonietta) and technology that had the effect of making a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. The plot – a futuristic mystery centring around the search for a missing person – was well constructed, and the libretto by Booker shortlisted British novelist David Mitchell was succinctly worded and well set. The 3D effects were jaw-droppingly spectacular, including one memorable moment when water from the vertical pool (what else?!) appeared to splash right into the auditorium.

But it wasn’t all special effects – behind the clever production and complex storyline was a simple yet important message, and one which speaks to everyone. I also found the wonderful music itself very moving, and this combined with the awesome visuals and well-told story made for an extremely emotional event. This is truly an opera for the 21st century, opening the door to an exciting future for musical theatre.

The work will be performed again at the Toronto Luminato Festival in June 2014 and Opera de Lyon in March 2015. If you have the opportunity to get to see it in either location, do go – you won’t regret it!

From Bach to Bowie

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It’s been an emotional roller coaster of the musical kind over the last few days, with six Proms and a jazz gig over the weekend followed by the screened finale of the David Bowie Is exhibition from the V&A on Tuesday! Highlights of the intensive Prom experience for me fell at the beginning and end of the weekend. The late night performance of Bach Oratorios with John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir on Friday and the premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Moth Requiem by the BBC Singers and members of the Nash Ensemble under Nicholas Kok at the Monday lunchtime chamber series were both very moving performances of very moving music, the latter enhanced by a revealing interview with the composer.

Vasily Petrenko conducting the National Youth Orchestra was as captivating as ever to watch, with his trademark blend of precision and emotion. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Frieze, in its world premiere performance, was cleverly constructed as a partner for the Beethoven 9 and deserving of further listening. Alison Balsom was stunning in the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra, but as always I’d have preferred to see separate conductor and piano soloist rather than one individual multi-tasking! The Urban Prom was a bit of a curate’s egg, including some excellent arrangements and strong performances, although for me was rather let down by the presenters making references to ‘posh’ people, which seemed to go against the spirit of the event.

Then Tuesday night’s live screening from the excellent V&A Bowie exhibition brought wonderful memories of the exhibition plus added insights and tributes from collaborators and curators. The fact that this was the V&A’s fastest selling exhibition came as no surprise – the fact that I found my ticket via a ticket agency in France indicated that the agencies had got in quick! Cleverly planned and executed, the exhibition placed Bowie in a cultural and historical context, yet with an intensely personal touch. Walking through the exhibits to the accompaniment of the Sennheiser soundtrack had provided a total immersion experience that transported me back to my teenage years, twenties, thirties and beyond. For Bowie’s words and music have provided the backdrop to many of my most memorable times.

Yes, there were issues with presentation skills and camera angles in the live screening as well as a total absence of the female contingent on the special guests list, but it was nevertheless a moving occasion on a par with the exhibition itself – and indeed the Bach Prom, bringing many a tear to the eye in the course of the evening! David Bowie Is… icon, innovator, inspiration, and my hero. A bit like Bach really…

It’s been brilliant, but now back down to earth with a bump!

Flamingo in the classroom


So, a bit quiet on the CD reviewing front recently, and there’s a good reason for that: the flamingo has recently re-entered the classroom! But instead of being one of 30 odd (some very odd!) small people facing the front, the tables have been turned and I now find myself, inexplicably, the one large person giving a bravura performance wielding a flute up front! It was all rather sudden and unexpected, but I’m relishing the opportunity to get stuck into Whole Class Ensemble teaching, enjoying a new challenge, gaining great experience and adding another string to my bow. Not that a flute has a bow – think that’s a violin or something!

One thing that has struck me on being back at school after ahem number of years is the quality of the artwork on display. Highlights of this week included a tissue paper lion jumping through a hoop and today’s flamingo flock on top of a filing cabinet in our band rehearsal room – home from home!

Baroque around the clock

Having recently returned from a choral performance trip to Spain and rather wishing that I was still there, singing and enjoying the cerveza, I was pleased to find a CD of Spanish and Portuguese music at the top of the pile to review! Listening to this recording was an interesting experience as both the performer and the featured composers were previously unknown to me. This was Baroque keyboard music played by Felicja Blumental, a Polish pianist who studied with Szymanowski before settling in Brazil and touring throughout Latin America. Please click to read my
review of Spanish and Portuguese Keyboard Music in the 2013 section of the Reviews page above.

Today is actually something of a Baroque fest for me, as BBC Radio 3 are broadcasting non stop Baroque works in their Baroque Around The Clock event for Red Nose Day today! This is part of the station’s excellent Baroque Spring initiative, featuring a whole month of Baroquery! With lots of brilliant programme choices, including many works by my all time top favourite Bach, I’m in seventh heaven this month and already worrying about how I’ll cope when normal programming resumes next month! Listen out (or Listen Again) for our Huddersfield Choral Society recording of Handel’s Messiah under Harry Christophers this evening.

Mambo, Blues and Tarantella


I’ve just posted a new CD review in the Reviews section of this site – the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s recent release of music by Mark-Anthony Turnage. The third all-Turnage CD by the LPO on their own label, this excellent CD features world premiere recordings of three concertos (for viola, clarinet and violin) and two other orchestral works, all recorded live. (Today’s title is taken from the name of the concerto for violin and orchestra, recorded in its world premiere performance.) Please use the drop down menu or follow the link above to read my review.

Just about back down to earth now after our recent concerts in Valladolid, Spain, with Huddersfield Choral Society. We gave two performances of Britten’s iconic War Requiem to a packed house in the 2200 seater Auditorio Miguel Delibes last week with the Orquesta Sinfónica De Castilla y León under maestro Jesús López Cobos, featuring a great line up of soloists including Ian Bostridge, no less! We developed a strong rapport with the orchestra and conductor, and our performances were acclaimed by audience members and press alike. A great success!