Concert Concat 2024

This post is one in a sequence which lists (mostly) live music I have heard, as best my memory allows. I update this list as time permits. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard. I write to have a record of my musical experiences because memory is fallible. These entries are intended as postcards from me to my future self. Other posts in this collection can be found here.

  • Pavel Kolesnikov in a solo recital at an almost-full Wigmore Hall, London, 22 May 2024. The theme of the recital was Celestial Navigation, and before he came on stage, there was a short talk by Mr Kolesnikov through the speakers about the idea behind the theme. It was not clear if he was speaking live or this talk had been pre-recorded. (I know how difficult it can be for some musicians to speak before or during playing, as both activities may be using the same hemisphere of the brain.)
    • Louis Couperin (1626-1661): Pavane in F sharp minor
    • Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992): Regard de l’Etoile from Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (1944)
    • Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849): Nocturne in D flat Op. 27 No. 2 (1835)
    • Olivier Messiaen: Regard de l’Etoile from Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
    • Olivier Messiaen: La colombe from Préludes (1928-9)
    • Fryderyk Chopin: Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 No. 1 (c.1829)
    • Olivier Messiaen: La colombe from Préludes Prélude (1964)
    • Fryderyk Chopin: Nocturne in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 1 (1835)
    • Olivier Messiaen: Prélude
    • Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Une barque sur l’océan from Miroirs (1904–5)
    • Thomas Adès (b.1971) Darknesse visible (1992)
    • Interval
    • Franz Schubert (1797-1828): 4 Impromptus D935 (1827):
      Impromptu in F minor • Impromptu in A flat • Impromptu in B flat • Impromptu in F minor

    This was a fine and moving performance by Mr Kolesnikov, played (I think) from memory. For the audience, our experience was enhanced by the admirable new policy of The Wigmore to darken the house lights during performances (something standard in British theatre, but not previously common in British music). Mr K played one encore, a moderately long, quiet minimalist work, Etude #2 of Philip Glass. This piece was well chosen, as it had the effect of calming us after the emotional turmoil of the Schubert Impromptus.

    As in his recent performances, the pianist was dressed entirely in white or off-white (in what looked to be designer clothes), which may presage a new trend: Is white the new black? Does it matter what the performer wears? Given that the only lights up were directed to the stage, dressing in white emphasized the performer more than dressing in black would have done. People who hold a traditional view of the performer as merely a slave to the composer (not a view which I hold), would perhaps not approve this emphasis. On the one hand, some would argue, it makes no difference to the sound, and I record it here merely for the historical record. On the other, musicians know that how you think strongly influences how you play, and the feelings and attitude of the performer may be greatly affected by what they are wearing, and by the reasons they have chosen a particular outfit.

  • Leopoldo Mugnai in a saxophone recital in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London, 20 May 2024 (accompanied by pianist Anya Fadina and supported by recording engineer Stephen Harrington). This was an exciting recital of 20th and 21st Century music.
    • Graham Fitkin: Gate (1963) (soprano saxophone)
    • Jonathan Harvey: Ricerare una melodia (soprano saxophone and electronics)
    • Alfred Desenclos: Prelude, Cadenza et Finale (soprano saxophone)
    • Andre Waignein: Deux Mouvements (alto saxophone)
    • Ida Gotkovsky: Brillance (alto saxophone).
  • Alexander Doronin playing Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with the Sevenoaks Symphony Orchestra under Darrell Davison, in Pamoja Concert Hall, Sevenoaks School, Sevenoaks, UK, 19 May 2024.

    This was a superb performance by Mr Doronin, commanding and thrilling, and played from memory. The psychological anguish of the first movement (likely arising from the pain Brahms felt after Schumann’s suicide) and the determination to live on in the main theme of the third were both strongly evident. Mr Doronin’s playing was technically adept, confident and controlled, yet not at all mechanical. This was an artful and emotionally expressive performance, and I was privileged to have heard it.

    Prior to the Brahms, the orchestra played Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and, after the interval, his Eroica Symphony (which I did not catch). The orchestra and conductor are to be congratulated for tackling such an ambitious programme, and for playing with such enthusiasm.

    The Pamoja Hall has a very high, peaked wooden roof with ribbed wood cladding on the walls, and the acoustic was very good. This hall is inside a modern building with a very good design, allowing the interval audience to spill outside onto a stepped terrace, which the warm evening encouraged. The hall apparently seats 410 and tonight was about three-quarters full. In the audience was the Mayor of Sevenoaks Town Council, wearing her ceremonial gold neck chain.

  • Part 1 of the Final Audition of the Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) at Wigmore Hall, Thursday 16 May 2024. The performers were

    The standout performances for me were those by James Morley (who was successful in being chosen as a YCAT Fellow for 2024) and the Dianto Reed Quintet (who were not). Mr Harewood was also successful. Congratulations to the winners and to all the contestants.

    I had attended this concert primarily to hear Mr Morley, and I was not disappointed. His program had a symmetry through time, with an excerpt from a Bach Cello Suite at its centre and works by Britten and Kaija Saariaho on both sides of it. The final piece by Liza Lim he played with two bows. The wooden back of the second bow was used initially, higher up the strings than the first bow, but by mid piece, both bows were being used in the usual manner. Although played very well, I thought the music of this work fairly mundane, with mostly low rumblings of little interest. However, the last third of the piece was transformed when Mr Morley started to sing. His voice sang long, soft, high notes that changed this music into something powerfully ethereal.

    • Benjamin Britten: Cello Suite #1, Op. 72 – Canto Primo
    • Luciano Berio: Les monts sont alles
    • Kaija Saariaho: Sept Papillon – Papillon II
    • JS Bach: Cello Suite no. 6 – Allemande
    • Benjamin Britten: Cello Suite #1, Op. 72 – Fuga
    • Kaija Saariaho: Sept Papillon – Papillon II (reprise)
    • Martin Marais: Les voix humains
    • Liza Kim: Cello Playing – as Meteorology

    The Dianto Reed Quintet were simply outstanding. The members had memorized the music, so were not confined to stand still in place reading the scores. Instead, they could move about to enact the dialectical elements of the story they presented, which was music about and leading to Manuel de Falla’s Danza del Terror from his ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, The Sorcerer). We didn’t just hear the attempted siren song and the counter song that is the final act of the ballet, we saw the musicians enact it by their movements around the stage. The set included a cocktail table and four chairs, and the musicians played variously sitting and standing around the table, or moving elsewhere on the stage. The movements appeared to have been carefully choreographed. I was reminded of the physical enactment of the dialectical interactions in Vivaldi’s The Seasons that I witnessed almost exactly ten years ago by Pekka Kuusisto playing with and leading the Sacconi Quartet and the Chamber Orchestra of the Royal College of Music.

    Identidades: la magia del Duende

    • Primo Ish-Hurwitz: Three Preludes to El Amor Brujo, No. I
    • Manuel de Falla (arranged Arjan Linker): La vida breve – Danza espanola
    • Enrique Granados (arranged Arjan Linker): Doce danzas espanola – Oriental
    • Primo Ish-Hurwitz: Three Preludes to El Amor Brujo, No. II
    • Xoan Montes Capon (arranged Max Knigge): Negra sombra
    • Primo Ish-Hurwitz: Three Preludes to El Amor Brujo, No. III
    • Manuel de Falla (arranged Hugo Bouma): “El amor brujo” Suite – Danza del Terror & Danza Ritual del Fuego

    The quintet comprises five Spanish musicians who studied together in Amsterdam. The theme of their recital was The Duende, the fiery internal spirit that sometimes inspires performers to create great and passionate art. The performers introduced us to Federico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of The Duende and then quoted from it several times. Garcia Lorca posited The Duende as a third member of a trio that includes positive angels and the artist’s muse in inspiring artists: angels are always better than ourselves, while the muse is static. Only the duende is alive and possibly capricious in its intentions.

    The Diantoistas aimed to reveal to us the duende in their recital, and they most certainly did. This performance was passionate and fiery, and among the best half-dozen musical performances I have ever been fortunate to be present at. If you ever wondered, as I have, what present-day England would have been like had the Spanish Armada been successful in their attempted invasion of 1588, then here is part of the answer: Britain would have had musicians like this!

    There is a video of a live performance by the Dianto Reed Quintet of a longer version of the Duende programme here.

  • Tom Zalmanov in a very fine solo piano recital at Steinway Hall, London, Wednesday 15 May 2024. The programme was on the theme of traveling and comprised music from France, Austria, Israel, Russia and Spain:
    • Francis Poulenc: Trois Novelettes
    • Franz Schubert: Wanderer Fantasy in C major, Op. 15 D760
    • Tal-Haim Samnon: Memory and Variations
    • Sergei Rachmaninov: Preludes Op. 23 – No. 3 in D minor, No. 4 in D major, No. 5 in G minor
    • Ferruccio Busoni: Kammer-Fantasie uber Carmen, BV284.

    Mr Zalmanov’s teacher Professor Ian Fountain of the Royal Academy of Music was in the audience, as was pianist Murray Perahia. A review of the recital by the indefatigable Christopher Axworthy is here.

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Loud Living in Cambridge

I was most fortunate this week to hear Jan Lisiecki in an outstanding recital at the West Road Concert Hall, Department of Music, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, on 26 February 2024, in a concert sponsored by Camerata Musica Cambridge. West Road Hall is a fine modern hall with very nice acoustics, and was fully packed. The hall management turned off the lights over the audience (as in a theatre), which should happen more often. Perhaps that darkness helped create the atmosphere of great seriousness this performance had. I later learnt that this recital was the twelfth time in the series that Mr Lisiecki had played the Preludes program.

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Transcendent music

Some years ago, I compiled a list of purposes that may motivate composers, performers or listeners of music, under the heading What is music for?

An objective that may motivate many performers is that of reaching a transcendent state, as the Russian-Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, describes here. His blog post was written after he had performed all five Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Brussels Philharmonic (under Thierry Fischer) across three evenings, in February 2020 (blog entry of 18 February 2020):

The high point for me was No. 4, during which I experienced something which until now I’ve only felt while playing Russian music: a kind of floating, when your brain disengages or splits in two. One (small) part is alert and following the performance, and perhaps directs the musical flow a little bit, the other (much larger) part is completely sunk into the music, experiencing it in a kind of visceral, instinctive way which precludes logical thinking and seems wired directly to your deepest feelings, without any buffers or defenses. After that concerto I was drained, bewildered, exhilarated – a complete mess. But what an unforgettable night.”

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Concert Concat 2

This post is one in a sequence which lists live music I have heard, as best my memory allows, from the Pandemic onwards. I will update this as time permits. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard.

Other posts in this collection can be found here.

  • Ariel Lanyi – piano recital at the Wigmore Hall, London, 27 December 2023. The program was:
    • Beethoven: Sonata #2 in A, Op 2 No 2 (1794-5)
    • Franck: Prelude, Aria et Final (1887)
    • R. Schumann: Etudes Symphoniques Op 13 (with posthumous etudes) (1834-7)

    A very refined performance to a house about 3/4 full. Many people seemed to know each other. I was not able to stay for the Schumann.

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Concert Halls

Herewith a list of concert halls and venues in which I have been fortunate to experience musical performances (excluding working Churches).

  • The Barbican Concert Hall, London
  • Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
  • Brisbane City Hall, Brisbane
  • Cadogan Hall, London
  • Casino Civic Hall, Casino, NSW
  • City Recital Hall, Sydney
  • Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Ballroom, Corinthia Hotel, London
  • Salle de Flagey, Brussels
  • Salle Gaveau, Paris
  • Hamburgische Staatsoper, Hamburg
  • Hamer Concert Hall, Melbourne
  • Ipswich Civic Hall, Ipswich, Queensland
  • King’s Place, London
  • Leggate Theatre, University of Liverpool, Liverpool
  • City Hall, Lismore, NSW
  • Llewellyn Hall, Canberra School of Music, Canberra, ACT
  • LSO St Luke’s, London
  • Auditorium, Maison de la Radio et de la Musique, Paris
  • Melba Hall, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Melbourne
  • Milton Court Concert Hall, Guildhall School of Music, London
  • Old Museum Concert Hall, Brisbane
  • Auditorium, St Joseph’s Nudgee College, Nudgee, Brisbane
  • Pamoja Concert Hall, Sevenoaks School, Sevenoaks, Kent UK
  • Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London
  • Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London
  • Regent Hall (Salvation Army Centre), Oxford Street, London
  • Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London
  • Royal Albert Hall, London
  • Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London
  • Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London
  • Performance Hall, Royal College of Music, London
  • Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London
  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
  • Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
  • Golden Concert Room, St George’s Hall, Liverpool
  • Recital Hall, Seoul Arts Centre, Seoul
  • Seymour Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney
  • State Theatre, Sydney
  • Steinway Hall, London
  • Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
  • Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
  • Sydney Town Hall, Sydney
  • Tanglewood, MA
  • Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris
  • Tyalgum Literary Institute Hall, Tyalgum, NSW
  • Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney
  • West Road Concert Hall, Department of Music, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • Wigmore Hall, London

Female composers

Several newspapers have recently carried reviews of a new book presented short biographies of 8 female composers (Beer 2016). It is certainly true that female composers have suffered from misogyny, and probably still do. But the situation is more subtle than it may appear at first.  The discrimination may arise because composers such as Fanny Hensel (neé Mendelssohn) wrote mostly for small-scale, intimate forms, such as lieder and solo piano.  Hensel wrote no operas or concertos or symphonies, as far as I know.   Since the industrial revolution our society, one could argue, has favoured the grand and the grandiose, so anyone who writes only in small forms is ignored.   This is true even of male composers:  Hugo Wolf, who wrote art song, is unjustly overlooked, for instance.   (This bias for the big and bombastic could also be a strongly male one.)

Against this argument that composers need to go large or be ignored, one could cite the case of nineteenth century French composer Louise Farrenc, who wrote symphonies and full-length chamber works (indeed, very good ones), yet still was ignored by the musical establishment. Despite her music being as good as Schumann’s or Mendelssohn’s, she still is ignored. Even Beer does not, apparently, profile her.

Hensel’s brother, Felix, was a symphonist and composer of overtures who audibly honed his technical craft writing a dozen string symphonies for the pick-up orchestra his mother assembled for the family’s weekly salon concerts each Sunday afternoon in Berlin. Very few women composers have had such an advantage, which perhaps explains something of Felix Mendelssohn’s comparative abilities. But Fanny Mendelssohn certainly had access to this resource. What explains her failure to write for it? Was it some pressure in the family, or just in herself? Did their parents, perhaps unconsciously and subtly, expect Felix to write pieces for the family salons, but not expect Fanny to do so? Was it a matter of social and class expectations of gender roles which the family had internalised? Or was Fanny simply lacking in confidence? She once wrote a song to secretly communicate her love for the man who later became her husband at a time when her parents refused to allow the pair to meet or write letters, so it seems she could disobey the spirit of any explicit family imposition, if not the letter.

Or are we looking in the wrong place entirely here? The Mendelssohns’ father and his brothers were bankers. Felix’s father took him to Paris as a teenager to meet Cherubini explicitly to assess whether the boy had a future as a composer. It is easy to imagine that his father wanted him to follow in the family bank, so perhaps Felix had to fight to get to be a composer. It was not, perhaps, that the family discouraged Fanny in particular from a career as a composer but that both children were thus discouraged, but only Felix resisted this pressure. To be honest, however, Felix’s published letters (in English) do not reveal any such discouragement from their parents, although these were bowdlerized.

Reference:
Anna Beer [2016]: Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music. Oneworld, London, UK.

A great Norwegian Messiah

Until this month, the best performance of the Messiah I ever heard was in 2011, an event I recorded here. I have now heard its equal.

This latest Messiah was performed on 19 December 2014 by The BBC Singers and the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, in an arrangement by Stian Aareskjold, under David Hill (conductor), with Fflur Wyn (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Samuel Boden (tenor) and Mark Stone (bass), in Temple Church, as part of Temple Winter Festival.

My heart sank when I first saw that the music had been arranged for wind-band, since groups of woodwinds, so often shrill and ineffectual, are not my favourite ensembles. But in fact this version turned out to be a wonderful arrangement and was realized in a thrilling performance. The secret, I think, was that the ensemble included a double bass and cello, some marvelous natural horns and three sackbuts, and, most spectacularly, saxophones. The solo for soprano sax in “O Thou That Tellest” played by Kristin Haagensen was just superb. That solo soared, as so did the saxes on “Surely He Hath Borne our Griefs and with His Stripes we are Healed”. A modern Briton, of course, cannot easily hear baroque music played by saxophones without thinking of Michael Nyman, and, just as with his great music, this was a truly sublime experience. The trombones in “He Trusted in God” were also inspired. Mr Aareskjold should be congratulated on this arrangement, and I hope it is soon recorded.

In addition, the performance rocked, and often literally. I was sitting as close to the orchestra as I could possibly get, and even had the two baroque trumpeters between me and the orchestra for the second half – Stian Aareskjold and Torgeir Haara, who had played angelically from the organ loft in the first half. (They played from iPads controlled by foot pedals.) So I could see the movement of choir and players as they performed, and there was a distinct bounce in some of the numbers, particularly in “His Yoke is Easy”. Perhaps the presence of saxes played by jazz musicians, who (unlike most classical musicians) move in time to their playing, led to this. Mr Aareskjold is the son of a trumpeter and the grandson of a trombone player (the reverse of my own ancestry), and brass players are often crossover musicians. The Church acoustics were, as usual here, superb.

For the “Hallelujah” Chorus, only part of the audience stood. Until this performance, I had never heard of the action of standing being construed as showing support for monarchical systems of government, and, frankly, such an interpretation is ridiculous. One stands for the “Hallelujah” because it is a tradition to do so, even if a tradition started by a Hanoverian monarch. Like Karl Marx, I believe traditions are the collected errors of past generations. But, like Morton Feldman, I’ve realized in adulthood that errors are not necessarily always to be avoided.
The concert is available to listen until mid January 2015, via BBC Radio 3. The Ensemble hails from Halden, a town of just 30,000 people. It was nice that the people sitting near me also came from there, and had brought with them tourist brochures to entice us to visit the town. I took one, of course, as it gave to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
And on the way out of the Middle Temple, in the offices of law-firm Gibson, Dunne & Crutcher in Temple Avenue, a late-working Friday evening team could be seen around a white board, making at least one observer envious of their camaraderie and collective efforts. How much fun it looked!

Earth moving in Folkestone

SSQ Festival 2014
Two life-changing concerts this weekend, both including Finnish violin virtuoso, Pekka Kuusisto, and both in Folkestone as part of the annual Sacconi Quartet’s Chamber Music Festival.

The first was a  concert in St. Mary and St. Eanswythe’s Church that included the Sacconi Quartet and the Chamber Orchestra of the Royal College of Music. With PK, they performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and knowing they would was the main reason for my attendance.  PK’s recording of Vivaldi is the most exciting and thrilling I know.  But this live performance was on another plane entirely.  Usually The Seasons are twee and effete and smugly complacent.  PK’s recording is not that, but rather raw and rustic.  (See my comments here.) The live performance, in contrast, was sharp and edgy, thrilling and exciting too but in a different way entirely to the recording.  If Vivaldi is usually suburban Barnet gemütlichkeit, then the recording is from the wild places of Cornwall or the Hebrides, and this performance was from the mean streets of Toxteth or Mile End.

PK’s playing as always was superb. He has an amazing ability to mimic the breathy tone of a flute, producing a sound sublime, something I have heard him do before in very different work.  Yet, at other times it was if he construed the violin as a percussion instrument, not hitting it with his hand but striking the strings in a multitude of carefully-calibrated ways with the bow.  Later, in the pub after the second concert, he agreed that this notion of the percussive violin described his intention.  Violinists often see the instrument as a sort of uncanny extension of themselves, and here was an extension that was brash, direct, and forceful – someone who is here to live out loud, in Zola’s great phrase.  How different to the twee Vivaldi of most other performances I have seen.

In addition, PK treated the work as a modern work, interpreting it afresh – moving around the stage, for example, to confront directly the other players in the various duets and rounds, having face-offs at various times, and interacting physically and with immediacy in accord with the temper of each phase of the music.  The other performers responded in kind to his enthusiasm.  The acoustics in the church were excellent, so that everything could be heard well.  This was certainly the best musical experience of my life, and I feel immensely privileged to have witnessed it.

The second concert followed straight afterwards, in the primary school across the street.  We were party to a violin and electronics meditation on Bach’s Partita in D minor, by PK and Teemu Korpipaa.  The movements of the Bach were played without modification by solo violin, and interleaved with duo improvisations on what we had just heard.  This was also sublime, and had the effect of elongating and deepening the emotions invoked by the Bach, an annotation that added to the original.  It was clear the two had worked together before, and so the annotations were profound and heartfelt.

Unfunny music

Last night, I caught the BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, with Olli Mustonen (piano) and Sergei Nakariakov (trumpet), at the Barbican, playing Tristan Murail’s Reflections/Reflets and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto #1.  The Murail work was in two parts, the first (Spleen) a response to Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, oozed sound colours slowly and langorously across the horizon, while the second (High Voltage) involved rapid-fire scales and runs.   I liked the first part more than the second.   The composer was in the audience.
In the Shostakovich, Nakariakov’s trumpet was superb. I have never heard the sad, muted solo of the second movement played so hauntingly: His tone there was breathtaking, and it was as if the sound was coming from another room, perhaps by some form of ventriloquism (a trumpet ventriloquy?). What came immediately to mind was the similarly sublime green-tinged, luminous moon of Arkhip Kuindzhi’s famous 1881 painting Moonlit Night on the Dniepr (pictured).  In contrast, Mustonen’s piano playing was disappointing.  His left hand was decidedly softer than the right for most of the piece.  At first, I thought this may be an acoustic artefact of where I was sitting (at the front left, almost directly facing the pianist’s back), but when he deployed his left hand loudly I did hear it loudly.   The issue is that for much of the work, Shostakovich was writing – as he does so often – in the style of a two-part invention, not a music-hall song with a cantabile solo with uninteresting accompaniment, so the two hands need to play equally loudly so that we hear the parts clearly.
The performance had another, more existential, problem:  This concerto is one of the funniest works in the entire orchestral repertoire, and yet last night’s interpretation was intensely serious.  Perhaps having in charge two Finns – a nation notoriously dour – overwhelmed the fun in the music.    And, I think it would have been better had the pianist not had his back to the trumpeter.  The entire work is a sharp-tongued dialogue between the two, particularly the duel at the end, and to hear what is meant to be fast-witted banter played so seriously was disappointing.