Prom 6: Rite of Spring

Prom 6. Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music and the Juilliard School
James Ehnes, Edward Gardner
Royal Albert Hall, 19 July 2019

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Metacosmos
Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

As a companion to the First Night’s offering of Janáček’s 1927 Glagolitic Mass (revied here)the BBC Prom 6 moved back 15 years to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, both monuments to the development of 20th-century classical music. It was performed by the joint orchestras of the Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music and New York’s Juilliard School a partnership that I first heard playing Bach in the 2015 Leipzig Bachfest. The violin soloist James Ehnes was a Julliard student, and conductor Edward Gardner was a student at the RAM.  

The opened with the UK premiere of Metacosmos by the Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir. After studies in America, she is now resident in London and is composer-in-residence with the Royal Academy of Musi and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Metacosmos was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Society. The composers’ programme note describes the piece as “constructed around the natural balance between beauty and chaos – how elements can come together in (seemingly) utter chaos to create a unified, structured whole. The idea and inspiration behind the piece, which is connected as much to the human experience as to the universe, is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole – the unknown – with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control”. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music

London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, Grosvenor Chapel. 10-18 May 2019

The 2019 London Festival of Baroque Music is the 36th in a festival series that for most of its life was under the banner of the Lufthansa Festival. It is now managed by Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, its principal venue. This year’s theme was ‘Crossing the Border’, exploring themes of travel and discovery. The festival website notes that “Throughout history musicians and musical ideas have crossed borders freely and frequently. Although national styles and identities have always developed and often have been celebrated in music, the musicians who have created and performed this music have honed their skills and talents by exploring influences and characteristics from a wide range of influences”. In these complex UK times, it was a timely reminder of the importance of travel for music and musicians. The Baroque era was a particularly important one for international cultural influences, not least in the UK where many continental musicians moved to England, and the aristocratic Grand Tour, one result of which was the foundation of the art collections of many 18th-century country houses.  Continue reading

Royal Academy of Music: Early Music Prize

Royal Academy of Music
Nancy Nuttall Early Music Prize
RAM Duke’s Hall. 29th April 2016

The Royal Academy of Music’s annual early music prize has in recent years been known as the Nancy Nuttall Early Music Prize, rather than its earlier incarnation with the name of a sherry manufacturer who donated a crate of sherry to the winners. The competition is for groups of from 3 to 10 players playing music from before 1800 on historically appropriate instruments. The winning group receives £1,000. It is a few years since I have been able to get to this event, and the increase in the standard of performance, and in the number of performers, was noticeable. Around 24 young musicians appeared, with very little duplication within the six groups.

It started with one of those awkward reviewer moments when I realised that instead of arriving embarrassingly early for a 6pm start I was actually embarrassingly late for the 5pm start. So I missed the first two groups, although I Continue reading

Tabea Debus – There is only one Bach … ?

There is only one Bach … ?
Tabea Debus
St John’s, Smith Square, 9 February 2016

Tabea Debus, recorder, Lea Rahel Bader, baroque cello, Johannes Lang, organ/harpsichord.

JS Bach: Organ Partita ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’ BWV768; Inventio No. 7 in E minor; Cello Suite No. 4 in Eb BWV1010; Recorder Sonata No. 1 in Eb BWV525; French Suite No. 2 in C minor.
CPE Bach: Flute Sonata in E minor H551, Harp Sonata in G Wq.139/H563, Fantasia in C for Harpsichord H284.
Telemann: Sonata in C TWV41:C2

St John’s, Smith Square has always been a concert hall that, despite an eclectic range of programmes, has had a particular affinity with early music, particularly of the Baroque era. A very welcome further step in that direction came with the announcement of their Young Artists Scheme which, for the 2015/16 season includes two specialist early music performers amongst the four awards (see here). These awards are intended to provide a performance platform, marketing and development assistance and career support for exceptional young artists on the brink of their professional careers. They are given three performance dates in St John’s Smith Square.

tdebus_upon_a_ground_cd_coverTabea Debus is a young recorder player, currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music. She first came to my attention when she sent me a review copy of her first CD (reviewed here). I was very impressed with her musicality and technical ability, a view strongly reinforced by her recent Young Artist performance at St John’s, Smith Square alongside fellow musicians Lea Rahel Bader, baroque cello, and Johannes Lang, harpsichord, the three collectively appearing (but not on this occasion) under the group name of TR!Jo. Continue reading

Bachfest Leipzig: 2015

Bachfest Leipzig
“So glorious you stand, dear city”
12-21 June 2015

WP_20150612_16_47_43_ProThe festival motto reflects the fact that 2015 is the millennium of the first documentary record of Leipzig, when the Bishop of Merseburg mentioned the town of “urbe libzi” in his chronicle in 1015. The phrase So herrlich stehst du, liebe Stadt! is taken from Bach’s cantata Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn (BWV 119), written in 1723 in honour of the Leipzig city council, the ‘dear city’ clearly referring both to Jerusalem and Leipzig. It was performed by the Thomanerchor and the Händelfestspielorchester Halle at the opening concert of the festival (held, unusually, in the Nikolaikirche rather than the Thomaskirche, on 12 June, 5pm) where it followed Max Reger’s arrangement for organ of Bach’s Chromatische Fantasie und Fuge d-Moll, played by Stefan Kießling with commendable restraint.

Written within a few months of his arrival in Leipzig, Bach’s large scale Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn (one of many such ‘Ratswahl’ cantatas Continue reading

‘Night at the Museum’

‘Night at the Museum’
Spitalfields Festival. Royal Academy of Music students
Geffrye Museum. 9 June 2015

WP_20150609_18_14_13_Pro__highresIn a nice collaboration between the Royal Academy of Music, the Geffrye Museum and Spitalfields Festival, RAM students gave mini-concerts in three different spaces of the museum, reflecting the museum’s history, the various historic rooms and contemporary music making, with all three events including a newly composed work. The student performers were Tabea Debus, recorders, Iosif Purits, accordion, and the Achille Trio. The three concerts were based on the period 1714, 1914 and 2014.

Tabea Debus played her own arrangement of extracts from Bach’s 2nd and 5th French Suites, followed by Alula, a new work by Cydonie Banting, written to contrast the tiny sopranino and the RAM’s rather curious looking new bass recorder. Transferring the Bach from the harpsichord to a single line instrument meant additional work for Tabea Debus in articulating the melodic line and the implied underlying pulse. She managed both very well, as with the sometimes tricky balance between volume and intonation. The new piece was a complex technical exercise for her, with flutter-tonguing, harmonics and having to switch between two diametrically opposed recorders. But her playing, and the piece itself, were both exemplary. Continue reading