Sir George Benjamin: A Duet and a Dream

A Duet and a Dream
Philharmonia Orchestra & Voices, Sir George Benjamin
Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano, James Hall counter-tenor
Royal Festival Hall, 5 March 2020

Knussen: Choral
Messiaen: Le merle bleu (The blue rock thrush) from Catalogue d’oiseaux
Benjamin: Duet for piano & orchestra
Benjamin: Dream of the Song
Janáček: Sinfonietta

A nicely balanced programme of music dating from 1926 to 2015 saw Sir George Benjamin conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in two of his own pieces, together with one of the piano works of his teacher, Messiaen, the 1972 Choral by the influential composer Oliver Knussen with Janáček’s rousing Sinfonietta as a finale. The opening Choral was composed for wind, percussion and double basses, the number 4 appearing to be an underlying thread in the instrumentation. As well as four double basses, there were similar quartets of slithering trombones, fluttering flutes, saxophones, oboes, bassoons and percussionists. It was composed Knussen’s vision of “several funeral procession converging into a point in the distance”, the slow pulse and evolving instrumental colour reinforcing this image. Continue reading

Ensemble Tempus Fugit: Calcutta

Calcutta
Ensemble Tempus Fugit
Tara Theatre, Earlsfield. 22 April 2018

I’ve often wondered what the distinctive little building next to Earlsfield Station was as my fast train into London thundered past. It turns out to be the Tara Theatre (the home of Tara Arts, founded in 1977) an Indian-influenced extension to what was originally an 1891 drapers store. It was a very appropriate venue for Calcutta, the innovative music & theatre project created by Ensemble Tempus Fugit, with musical direction from harpsichordist Katie De La Matter and stage direction by Francesca Bridge-Cicic.

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The concert was based on life in Calcutta (now Kolkata, and the capital of West Bengal state) around 1780. Developed from three villages in the late 17th-century (and named after one of them), Calcutta soon became a thriving fortified port under the British East India Company, eventually becoming the capital of the British Indian territories up until 1911. British residents (or, perhaps more accurately, their wives) brought musical instruments out with them, including harpsichords, but soon became fascinated by the local musicians and Indian classical music. Ensemble Tempus Fugit’s research revealed two such East India Company officer wives: Margaret Fowkes, who invited local Indian classical musicians into her front room, and her friend Sophia Plowden, who arranged for some Indian tunes to be written down.  Continue reading