Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
Huguenot houses in Spitalfields
9 December 2017
The 2018 incarnation of the Spitalfields Winter Festival concluded with Schumann Street, an ambitious weekend ‘installation’ based in eight of the historic former Huguenot houses in the streets next to the traditional home of the festival, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Hawksmoor’s architectural masterpiece. The festival was founded (by Richard Hickox) in 1977 specifically to help to save Christ Church from demolition. For many years, concertgoers stepped over the rough brick floors to hear a glittering array of top-flight early music performers and established contemporary composers, one example of the latter being the 1991 performance of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil. A timeline of the Spitalfields Festival and its associated activities, most notably in community and education projects, can be seen here. Since then, Christ Church has completed a major restoration but, unfortunately, no longer hosts the festival that was instrumental, in so many ways, in its continuing existence and restoration.
For the Schumann Street installation, which had four runs over the weekend, each of eight Huguenot houses accommodated two performances, all sixteen based on Schumann’s 1840 Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love). Although usually performed with a male voice and piano, it was dedicated to a soprano. For this event, the 16 performers (individuals or groups) were given free rein to interpret the verses in their own way and style. The audience met in the crypt of Christ Church, where we were divided into eight groups and were eventually, after quite a delay, led to one of the houses. From then on, we were all left to our own devices, with a map to show where the houses were, but no indication of who would be performing where or when, or any idea of the length of the 16 performances. Continue reading
Nonclassical Club NIght
Freya Waley-Cohen, The Hermes Experiment, Liam Byrne
The Victoria, Dalston. 12 July 2017
Nonclassical is an enterprising musical set up combining a record label with monthly club nights around London, founded in 2004 by composer Gabriel Prokofiev. The club nights bring classical music, both newly composed and more traditional, to the rock club scene, with events usually held in pub entertainment rooms. If the aim was to attract the sort of audience that wouldn’t be seen dead in places like the Wigmore Hall, it has certainly succeeded. The audience stands, drinks in hand, around a stage packed with loudspeakers. Between the acts, DJs continue the theme of inventive new music. The associated record label includes extracts from the live gigs as well as remixes of new compositions. Continue reading
The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare musically reimagined
The Hermes Experiment
The Cockpit. 13 December 2016
The Hermes Experiment are usually a four-piece band with the unusual instrumentation of harp, clarinet, soprano voice and double bass. In their short but impressive life span, they have commissioned new music from around 36 composers, and well as using their own improvisatory skills in performance. Alongside appearances in their four-member format, they are also involved in cross-disciplinary collaborations. For their ‘musical reimagining’ of Shakespeares Winter’s Tale, performed in a one-off show in London’s Cockpit Theatre, they worked with director Nina Brazier, composer Kim Ashton and five actors.
They developed this hour-long take of The Winter’s Tale during an Aldeburgh Music Residency (see video trailer below), with composer Kim Ashton setting out ideas for musical improvisation as much as issuing new composed music. He described the ‘score’ as being ‘a compilation of instructions, including only sparse musical notes’, noting that the music is as much by The Hermes Experiment as by him, and that’most of what we will hear is being improvised live’, responding to ‘musical shapes and behaviors agreed in advance’. Shakespeare’s own text presented in manageable chunks and with musical accompaniment and interludes merging and emerging from the text. Continue reading
Scenes from the End
Héloïse Werner, soprano
Jonathan Woolgar, composer, Emily Burns, director
Camden Fringe 2016
Camden People’s Theatre 11 August 2016
The image of opera as a posh frocks and picnics event at places like Glyndebourne has long since been shattered; not by the paired-down touring companies that pander to the country house set during the summer months, but by the wealth of small scale innovative opera companies working on new scores in smaller, more approachable spaces. One example of the latter is ‘Scenes from the End’, an extraordinary one-woman performance piece about grief, developed and performed by soprano Héloïse Werner. Working with composer Jonathan Woolgar (who also wrote the text), Werner’s 45 minute piece explores themes of grief and death in a compelling combination of music, theatre, spoken word, projection and recorded sound.
Performed during the Camden Fringe in the tiny (and noisy) black-box Camden People’s Theatre, this was opera at its most intimate. Continue reading