Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The consequences are becoming clearer. 1 No new concert hall Neither the country, nor the City, nor its staff-evacuating financial institutions will stump up half a billion pounds for Simon Rattle’s vanity hall. Its chief sponsor, the unpopular Chancellor George Osborne, is struggling for survival. 2 Music colleges will lose EU students They will be charged at full rates of up to £18,000 a year, instead of the present EU/UK rate of £9,000. Most will go elsewhere. Teaching jobs will be slashed. Two colleges will have to merge. 3 Blight on research With the loss of EU research grants, universities will cut lecturer posts, starting with the arts. Music will suffer. 4 Less touring for orchestras London orchs will lose their open market advantage in EU countries, starting with Spain. They will be replaced by Czech, Polish and German ensembles. 5 The upside? There is no upside.
Barbican, London Professional and amateur performers join Simon Rattle and the LSO for opera premierePeter Maxwell Davies – Max to just about everyone in the classical world – died three months ago. One of his last completed works was The Hogboon, an opera characteristic of his output in a couple of ways. It was written for both professional and amateur musicians – this premiere brought together six professional soloists, a boy treble, adult and children’s choirs and students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, plus the London Symphony Orchestra, all under its music director designate, Simon Rattle. And it is also typical in being inspired by the Orcadian culture from which much of Max’s work derived following his move to Hoy in 1971. The Hogboon was composed at what must have been an enormously difficult time, its libretto begun after the composer learned that the leukaemia from which he was in remission had returned. He completed the score six months before his death. Continue reading...
One of my earliest teaching positions was at Repton School in the UK. I recently donated a letter to the school’s archives that I found silted up in my ancient piles of correspondence. It’s one I received from the tenor Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten’s companion, whilst I was a young master at the school; in it he mentions that his great uncle, Steuart Adolphus Pears, had been Head Master of Repton from 1854 to 1874, a distinguished connection that had somehow grown hazy in the mists of time. The reason for the visits in 1955 and 1960 by Britten and Pears to perform in the Repton School Subscription Concerts, sparsely documented in the annals, becomes clearer. Some of you may recognise the name Repton from the tune which is sung to the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. An erstwhile Director of Music at Repton had figured that a particular tune from Parry’s oratorio Judith was a bit of a cracker, and so in it went to the school’s hymn book supplement in 1924, subsequently baptised ‘Repton’. But what has this got to do with the subject of this week’s blog—nightingales? Not a lot, except that I was intrigued to discover another musical connection with Repton shortly after taking up my post there. One of my favourite songs had always been A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (8.120663 ), and I learned that the lyrics were written by Eric Maschwitz, a Repton Old Boy. So, this week, I’d like to develop that seed and present a number of works that have an association with the nightingale, beginning with that perennial favourite of mine by Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin. The next two pieces (and there are many more) were inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Nightingale, in which an emperor takes more pleasure from the sounds of a mechanical bird than the song of a real nightingale. Favole (8.555267 ) by Elisabetta Brusa is a suite the composer dedicated to her godson on the occasion of his birth. The second movement, The Real Nightingale and the Mechanical One, is described by Brusa as follows: “[Note] the difference between the lyrical melody of the real nightingale (flute) and the more rhythmical and less emotional melody…of the mechanical bird played by the piccolo and the glockenspiel; all of a sudden the mechanical nightingale breaks down, onomatopoeically expressed by the glissandi of the strings and by the sound of the rattle at the end of the last carillon-like section, so the real nightingale is able to triumph with its lyrical singing.” Here it is . Stravinsky’s The Nightingale (8.557501 ) was first performed in Paris in 1914; it’s a one-act opera in three scenes. Here’s how Robert Craft, the distinguished authority on Stravinsky, described the work’s orchestration: “Stravinsky’s orchestral palette…is never more exotically colourful than in The Nightingale, which is a virtual catalogue of avian imitations: tremolos, trills, appogiaturas, grupetti string harmonics, pizzicato glissandos, flautando and ponticello effects, harp and piano arpeggios, harp harmonics and the retuning of cello strings to produce harmonics on unusual pitches.” You can have fun hunting these down for yourself. Meanwhile, here’s an extract from Scene 2 (The Porcelain Palace of the Chinese Emperor): Song of the Nightingale . The Spanish composer Enrique Granados wrote two books of Goyescas, piano pieces that were inspired by his compatriot Francisco Goya and his ability to depict what Granados saw as the essence of the Spanish character. One of the Goyescas is titled The Maiden and the Nightingale (8.554403 ). The piece is basically a set of variations, but it ends with a cadenza that imitates the song of a nightingale . Edvard Grieg wrote more than 180 songs, but his relationship with singers was frequently one of dissatisfaction with their interpretation of his works. He wrote in his diary of 1906: What are singers? Nothing but vanity, stupidity, ignorance and dilettantism. I hate them, every one of them. ‘Also your wife?’, one will ask, but I answer: ‘I am sorry, but she is lucky enough not to be a singer.’ Hopefully, Grieg would have reconsidered his opinion after hearing this performance of part of his song, The Nightingale’s Secret (8.553781 ), which tells of a nightingale’s discretion in witnessing the amorous encounter of two lovers. Finally, a charming snatch that’s worth 60 seconds of anyone’s time: The Nightingale from Boris Tchaikovsky’s Swineherd Suite (8.572400 ), again based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It tells of the efforts of a lovesick Prince to gain the attentions of a Princess, which include the offering of two special gifts: one is an uncommonly beautiful rose; the other a silver-throated nightingale whose beguiling song is captured on the piccolo against a backdrop of harp and strings Oh, and very finally, having worked there for a while not too long ago, I can report that, sadly, nightingales are nowadays seldom heard singing in London’s Berkeley Square.
Berliner Philharmoniker/ Abbado/ Barenboim/ Boulez/ Dudamel/ Haitink/ Mehta/ Muti/ Rattle (Warner Classics, 25 DVDs)The Berlin Philharmonic gave its first ever concert in 1892, on 1 May. Since 1991, it has been marking that anniversary with a one-off May Day concert, which is given in a different historical-cultural centre in Europe each year, and which is televised live widely across Europe, though not in the UK. This set of DVDs documenting the first 25-year history of the Europa Concerts has been taken from these broadcasts. Though some of the performances are far more memorable than others, it makes for a fascinating collection. The recordings are generally first-rate, and are blissfully free of video gimmicks, voiceover introductions or commentaries, though there are no subtitles or printed texts for the vocal works. It’s the performances pure and simple, though a few of the discs include additional short documentary films about the cities in which the concerts took place. Those venues range from St Petersburg to Palermo, Istanbul to Oxford, with no fewer than three of them, for some reason, having been in Prague.Concerts under nine conductors are included in the set. As you might expect, the Berlin Philharmonic’s two principal conductors over the quarter century concerned, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle, feature most prominently, but Daniel Barenboim conducts five concerts, as well as making two appearances as a soloist. Programmes tend to be determinedly populist and mainstream – there’s lots of Mozart and Beethoven, and quite a bit of Brahms; even the one concert that Pierre Boulez conducts, in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, in 2003, includes a Mozart piano concerto, the D minor, K466, with Maria João Pires as the wonderfully fluent soloist. Continue reading...
Simon Halsey has given 15 years of his life to the Berlin radio chorus, working closely with his ex-Birmingham partner Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic. But all good things must end, and Simon’s is ending with the award of the estimable Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn Medal, presented (below) by Berlin’s tieless culture secretary, Tim Renner. photo © Robert Lehmann The two Simons are now resuming their double-act at the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Berlin Philharmonie The British composer’s Incantesimi got a thrilling premiere alongside an enthralling performance from Krystian Zimerman in Beethoven’s 4th Piano ConcertoOf the many extraordinary qualities in the British composer Julian Anderson’s new work Incantesimi, from the Italian meaning charms, or spells, one particular fact stands out. Between now and end of the summer, when the Berlin Philharmonic give its UK premiere at the Proms (3 September), the work will have received six performances around Europe. More are scheduled, in America, next year. Few new pieces get a second performance. Inevitably, quite apart from the wizardry of the 48-year-old Anderson himself, there’s another spell-maker in the background: Simon Rattle. He may be stealing headlines as the best-known face in the campaign for a new concert hall in London. His lifelong commitment is to a different kind of construction: building repertoire, supporting composers, commissioning new works. One of his first high-profile conducting tasks was introducing to the world, when he was 23, the first symphony by Peter Maxwell Davies. In a fortnight Rattle will conduct the premiere of the composer’s final work, The Hogboon, a children’s and community opera. Rattle plays a long game. Continue reading...