Friday, 18 March 2016

An evocative evening of Anne Boleyn's Songbook, expertly performed by Alamire

Anne Boleyn

David Skinner (director)

Clare Wilkinson (alto)
Jacob Heringman (lute)
Kirsty Whatley (harp)

Cadogan Hall
Thursday 17 March 2016

Mouton: Tota pulchra es
Anon: Gentilz galans compaingnons
Anon: Fer pietas opem miseris mater
Compère: Paranymphus salutat virginem
Anon: Maria Magdalena et altera Maria
Anon: Forte si dulci Stigium boantem
Brumel: Sicut lilium inter spinas
de Sermisy: Jouyssance vous donneray
Anon: Laudate Dominum omnes gentes

Josquin: Stabat Mater
Anon: Venes regrets, venes tous
Mouton: In illo tempore
de Févin: Tempus meum est ut revertar
Anon: O virgo virginum
Anon: Popule meus quid feci tibi
Josquin: Praeter rerum seriem
Anon: O Deathe rock me asleep

Byrd: O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth

'A ... direct, assertive sound, with the individual lines much more present, particularly in the lower voices'.

'Skinner allows the structure of the music to speak, and is never afraid to allow the sound to carry some weight'.

'An entertaining and well-devised programme'.

'Wilkinson’s style was light and direct, and she communicated the text engagingly'.

Read my full review on Backtrack here.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Energy and boyish excitement from Ashkenazy in Rachmaninov

Esther Yoo
 © Marco Borggreve

Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Esther Yoo (violin)

Rachmaninov: The Rock, Op. 7
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44

Royal Festival Hall
Thursday 3 March 2016

'Fresh and energetic performances'.

'Ashkenazy seemed full of almost boyish excitement'.

(on the Sibelius): 'This was an authoritative performance, with every note in place'.

(on the Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 3): 'Ashkenazy drew a lush, rich sound from the Philharmonia'.

Read my full review on Backtrack here.

International Women's Day 2016

(The following is an edited version of my article in GScene magazine, March 2016)

Alice Coote (credit: Chris Christodoulou)
To mark International Women’s Day (8 March 2016) I’ve looked back at my columns for the last year or so, looking out for women performers, composers and conductors.  Out of around 40 CDs reviewed, just four feature women composers, and about ten have female lead performers (that doesn’t include women in mixed chamber ensembles and groups).  None feature women conductors.  So what’s going on here?  Now I clearly have my part to play here, as I have choice over the CDs I review – although in my defence, I sought to review two CDs by one female composer, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, after hearing one of her works performed live in the BBC Proms.  And perhaps herein lies the key – exposure is often achieved best through concert performances, often via the championing of well-known performers.  On this occasion, it was The Tallis Scholars who had commissioned a new work for their Prom concert.

Barbara Hannigan
And talking of live performances, when I look back over the last year in Brighton, it has in fact been a good year for women.  In the 2015 Brighton Festival, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote performed her exploration of gender identity in ‘Being Both’, a programme of Handel arias for male and female characters. Soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan sang and conducted the Britten Sinfonia in a concert of Mozart, Haydn and Stravinsky.  And violinist Isabelle Faust gave stunning performances of the complete cycle of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.  This is not to mention a good proportion of women performers at festival lunchtime concerts, and at other chamber concerts throughout the year.

Fiona Shaw (credit: John Enoch)
At Glyndebourne, Fiona Shaw’s great production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia won plaudits all round. Then of course our very own Brighton Early Music Festival (directed by two women, Clare Norburn and Deborah Roberts) dedicated the whole of this year’s festival to the theme of ‘Women: Enquirers, Muses, Enchanters’.  We heard music by women composers including Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Hildegard of Bingen, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Barbara Strozzi, among others. Women performers included Dame Emma Kirkby, harpsichordist Carole Cerasi, Clare Norburn and Belinda Sykes with Joglaresa

Credit: Robert Piwko
But the outstanding triumph of the 2015 Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) was surely their staging of the first surviving opera by a woman, Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero Dall’isola di Alcina.  The production by Susannah Waters, directed by Deborah Roberts was a great success, placed in the top ten classical music events of the year by  Tim Ashley in The Guardian.  And great news – a recording of the performance will be broadcast on Sunday 6 March, on the BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show.  I urge you to listen in! 

Deborah Roberts also conducted and performed with Musica Secreta, the CelestialSirens (both all-women ensembles) and the Brighton Festival Youth Choir in a programme directed by herself and Laurie Stras, about Lucrezia Borgia’s daughter Leonora d’Este, with the first modern performances of music potentially by her.  And again, she directed and sung in a consort of music by Strozzi, Caccini and Cozzolani, with the BREMF Consort of Voices, a concert that was later broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (credit: Jay L Clendenin)    
So coming up in the next year?  Well, in the 2016 Brighton Festival, Alice Coote returns to sing Angel in The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar, with the Brighton Festival Chorus and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner.  And while we’re on the CBSO, they’ve recently announced that 29-year-old Lithuanian conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be taking over from Andris Nelsons as Music Director in September 2016.  Currently at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gražinytė-Tyla had already gone down well with audiences and the musicians in Birmingham, and was apparently the unanimous choice to take over the baton.

Also in the Brighton Festival, Indian violinist and composer, Kala Ramnath will be performing her own piece for Indian violin and orchestra The Seasons of India with the Philharmonia Orchestra.  And BREMF Co-director, Clare Norburn brings her play, ‘Breaking the Rules’ about the composer Gesualdo, performed by an actor and the Marian Consort.  The play was piloted at BREMF in 2013, and was a hit then, so it’s great to see it returning in a new reworked version to Brighton. She is also writing a play about Galileo for the Monteverdi StringBand and the Marian Consort which will premiere at BREMF this year. 

Marin Alsop (credit: Grant Leighton)
Meanwhile, further afield, despite having left as Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2008, Marin Alsop is a regular on UK concert platforms, and made history in 2013 as the first female conductor of The Last Night of the Proms. Her partner, Kristin Jurkscheit is a horn player and also director of the WOW (Women of the World) Baltimore festival.  And conductors Alice Farnham and Andrea Brown’s programme for women conductors at Morley College is now in its third year, so hopefully we will continue to see more women on the podium. But then there’s still a way to go – shortly before Alsop appeared at The Last Night of the Proms, conductor Vasily Petrenko said in an interview that a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think aboutother things’.

Alice Farnham (© Catherine Ashmore)
But what of composers?  Well, recently, 17-year-old Jessy McCabe launched a campaign when she discovered that Edexcel’s A level music syllabus featured 63 male composers and no women. Her campaign persuaded them to include five works by female composers as a result. The BBC’s Ten Pieces project for schools included one work by Anna Meredith in its first year, aimed at primary school children, and in the second year, targetted at secondary level, a piece by Anna Clyne has been included. 

Anna Meredith
But when was the last time you heard a work by a woman on the programme of a mainstream orchestra?  The international classical listings and review website, Bachtrack  looked at the statistics from over 25,000 concerts worldwide in 2014 and found only 5 female composers in the top 260 – and Sofia Gubaidulina, the top, only scraped in at no. 132!  Judith Weir, the Master of the Queen’s Music (yes, Master…) makes it to no. 219. Oh, and back to conductors, their statistics show just 5 women in the top 150, with Marin Alsop leading the women at no. 42.

So if you think classical music is all music by dead white men performed by living white men, well, perhaps that’s still often the case.  But things are hopefully changing, and as I began by saying, the key is exposure and the support of performers and concert programmers.  And maybe we’re doing better than some places here in Brighton, with the help of imaginative programming at the Brighton Festival and the out and out championing of women in music at the Brighton Early Music Festival – long may this continue!

To find out more about women composers, BREMF have helpfully set up a page on their website dedicated to women composers.  There’s information about some key early music composers, but also links to a range of sources of general information about female composers worth checking out.