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
Organ Reframed: Six New Works
London Contemporary Orchestra, James McVinnie
Union Chapel, Islington. 13 October 2017
Organ recitals, at least of the traditional English sort, tend to attract relatively small, rather aged, and predominantly male audiences. They usually feature music written between the time of Bach and the early 20th century. Occasionally forays into more contemporary (or contemporary sounding) music – even Messiaen, most of whose organ music was composed more than 70 years ago, can frighten off audiences. But the weekend Organ Reframed festival at the spectacular Union Chapel in Islington demonstrated that both organ and contemporary music can have a huge following, if presented in an imaginative way. Continue reading
Pull out all the stops
James McVinnie (organ) & Bedroom Community
Royal Festival Hall, 24 September 2015
The 2014 restoration of the influential and controversial Royal Festival Hall’s 1954 organ has seen a resurgence of organ recitals, although these are not (yet?) up to the frequency of the long-running Wednesday at 5.55 series that introduced the London public to continental organists and organ music. The title of the organ restoration project, and of the subsequent recital series, is ‘Pull out all the stops’, a reference an episode in the organ’s history. It refers to a 1971 performance of Ligeti’s extraordinary organ work Volumina given by Xavier Darasse. The opening of Volumina requires the organist to pull out every single stop on the organ (something rarely, if ever, done), depress as many manual and pedal keys as he can by flattening his arms on the keys, and only then to switch the organ on. After a couple of seconds of an enormous crescendo as the bellows began to activate the pipes, all the fuses on the organ blew, prematurely ending the piece, and the recital. Continue reading
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 6 August 2015
I don’t normally read other reviews until I have seen for myself, but I was aware that Glyndebourne’s new production of Handel’s Saul had gone down well. And well it should. It is one of the most successful productions that I have seen. Directed by Barrie Kosky, with designs by Katrin Lea Tag and lighting by Joachim Klein, the sumptuous settings and costumes would inevitably tick most opera-goers’ boxes. Of course, Saul isn’t an opera, but one of his finest oratorios, written in 1739 and the first of his collaborations with Charles Jennens. There is now a long tradition of staging oratorios, not least at Glyndebourne, dating back to 1996 and Peter Sellars’ Theodora. And with its dramatic story of family intrigue, love and hate, a youthful hero and a king loosing his mind, it certainly has all the dramatic possibilities of opera seria.