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

BBC Proms: Janáček – Glagolitic Mass

Prom 1. Janáček: Glagolitic Mass
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, BBC Singers
Karina Canellakis
Royal Albert Hall, 19 July 2019

The 125th season of the BBC Proms celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of their founder-conductor, Sir Henry Wood, whose bust looks down on the orchestras and Prommers throughout the season. One of the threads through the Proms are the ‘Novelties’, Wood’s own description of various UK and world premieres that he conducted. Another theme is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This opening concert (from the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and the BBC Singers, directed by Karina Canellakis) acknowledged both with a world premiere and one of Wood’s novelties together with a focus on Czech composers. As well as featuring a female composer, this was also the first time that a female conductor had opened the Proms, one of the seven women conductors this season. It was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and on BBC2 and BBC4, and is available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards. Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Jenůfa

Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa
Grange Park Opera, BBC Concert Orchestra, William Lacey
Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place. 11 June 2017

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Not for the first time in recent years, an opera company has planned, designed, funded and constructed a brand new opera house having been required, for various reasons, to move from the original home. In the most recent case of Grange Park Opera, the background to the move from their founding home at The Grange, Hampshire, was not without controversy, and the new opera house is not quite finished, or, indeed, fully funded. But nonetheless they managed to put on an impressive indication of what will be the new home for the next 99 years, the Theatre in the Woods, hidden away behind the massive medieval pile of West Horsley Place (pictured), rather unexpectedly inherited by former television personality and writer, Bamber Gascoigne, from his Duchess Great Aunt. Continue reading

Janáček: Jenůfa

Janáček: Jenůfa
Czech Philharmonic & Choir of Brno, Jirí Bélohlávek
Royal Festival Hall. 16 April 2016

As part of their International Orchestra Series, the Royal Festival Hall welcomed the Czech Philharmonic and their conductor Jirí Bélohlávek for a concert performance of Leoš Janáček’s opera Jenůfa, first performed in Brno 1904. It is known in Czech as Její pastorkyňa, “Her Stepdaughter”, the name of the book upon which it is based. It is the stepmother, Kostelnička Buryjovka who is the focus of the story, although the tragic figure of the story is the hapless Jenůfa. Kostelnička has a frequently manipulative hold on the complex system of family, friends and villagers that the opera explores, not least on her stepdaughter, Jenůfa, who is in love with, and secretly pregnant by, her cousin Števa Buryja, the frequently drunken saw-mill owner. Števa’s half-brother, Laca has loved Jenůfa since childhood and is insanely jealous of his half-brother who appears to have everything he lacks, including the girls. When his clumsy attempt at a kiss is repelled, he slashes Jenůfa’s face witha blunt knife, disfiguring her. Continue reading