JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with CHOCOLATE AND SILVER, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1521 Entries
Wonderful talk the other week with Jonathan Dove about Swanhunter, which Opera North is currently doing at the ROH Linbury and is touring until 3 May. I love Jonathan's music, which manages to be engaging, original, interesting, compelling and atmospheric rolled into one, and it's always a joy to talk to him about his work. Not everything has gone into the paper, so here is the director's cut.


Being a contemporary classical composer can be an insecure business for some. But, it seems, not for Jonathan Dove, whom I catch for a chat just before he heads off to Hawaii, where one of his numerous operas is being staged. “I’m having rather an annus mirabilis,” he declares, mildly incredulous. Closer to home, his one-act chamber opera Swanhunter is coming to London for the first time: Opera North, which commissioned it, brings a new co-production with the theatre company The Wrong Crowd to the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio on 2 April. And this is just the beginning. 
“I like to feel useful,” Dove explains as we ponder the secret of his success. “And opera is something I like to share.” This at least partly accounts for his quantity of stage works for schools, families and community participation; they have included The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Enchanted Pig, and Tobias and the Angel, to name just a few, many of them received by audiences and critics alike with near rapture. Dove’s style is lyrical, fresh and, above all, genuine; he says he finds the matter of introducing young audiences to opera an inspiring challenge. “But whatever you do in that respect, Benjamin Britten always got there first,” he acknowledges, nodding to the prevailing influence of such works as Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and The Little Sweep.

After studying composition with Robin Holloway, Dove (now 55) learned the processes of opera from the inside, working as repetiteur, arranger and outreach animateur. “I first started to get excited about opera in my twenties, when I was playing the piano for rehearsals,” he says, “and before I started writing my own pieces I used to reorchestrate great operas like Wagner’s Ring cycle and Rossini’s La Cenerentola for what was then Birmingham Touring Opera. The idea was to take opera on the road. There’d be a bunch of us in a van, going around the country playing Rossini operas in sports centres. Opera can have a whole existence outside the opera house – you don’t have to have a proscenium arch and a full symphony orchestra, though it’s very exciting when you do.”

He wrote Swanhunter for Opera North in 2009: “The brief was to create something based on an idea of the north,” he says, “something for young people – the target audience is ages eight to 12 – and therefore not too long; and something that could be easily toured.” His regular collaborator, the librettist Alasdair Middleton, began the process by researching Nordic myths and homing in on the ancient Finnish folk-epic of the Kalevala.

Its hero, Lemminkäinen, must accomplish a set of apparently impossible tasks in order to win a beautiful bride: he must hunt the Devil’s elk and shoot the swan that swims around Tuonela, the isle of the dead. But he is killed and his body dismembered and thrown into the river. His mother fishes out the pieces, reassembles them and sings him back to life.

“It was that idea – that a mother might sing her son back to life – which stuck in my mind and wouldn’t go away,” says Dove. “It seemed an extraordinary and wonderful theme for an opera, especially one that might introduce the artform to some of the audience. It’s a story that celebrates the power of song as something magical, something that can heal and revivify.” 

This is the same story that inspired Sibelius’s Lemminkainnen Suite, its best-known extract being ‘The Swan of Tuonela’. But when Dove turns to the Swan, far from Sibelius’s dark-hued cor anglais solo, he begins its song “stratospherically high,” as he says, “descending in a cascade of harp ripples. Once I saw a child put his hands over his ears! It’s unearthly, and for people who are mainly used to hearing the human voice singing through amplification it can be interesting to see people producing these sounds without any mechanical assistance. As this will be some young people’s introduction to opera I want them to hear some of the extraordinary things the human voice can do.” 

Dove’s busy year intensifies in summer, when his enormously successful opera Flight, created in 1998 for Glyndebourne, comes to Holland Park Opera in the latest of its numerous incarnations; it has travelled the world from the US to Germany to Australia. “It was a life-changing piece for me to write,” Dove remarks. “I did what I’ve always tried to do, which is to write the piece I wanted to see. But I didn’t know whether anybody else would want to see it. It’s incredibly gratifying that it turned out they did.”  

And just as gratifying is the prospect of Sir Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Dove’s brand-new opera for children, The Monster in the Maze, in July. If this isn’t an annis mirabilis, I don’t know what is.


Swanhunter, ROH Linbury Studio Theatre, from 2 April, then touring until 3 May. Box office: 020 7304 4000




4 months ago | |
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I had a wonderful talk with the composer Tansy Davies, whose first opera Between Worlds brings a profound take on the Twin Towers attack to the stage of the Barbican, in a co-commission between this centre and ENO. Its world premiere is on 11 April. My piece is in the Independent, here.
4 months ago | |
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Is this to be Orfulkoff Symphony Hall, City of London?
Photo: Craig Holmes

In a strange yet possibly inspired twist to the saga of the new venue for Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, is to be shifted brick by brick to London.

Rattle's campaigning for a state-of-the-art concert hall during his years with the CBSO resulted in the construction of what many consider to be the UK's finest of its kind. But now, as Birmingham City Council struggles against budget cuts that have already rendered its splendid new library openable only in restricted hours, selling Symphony Hall to London appears to kill many birds with one concrete block. Rattle and the LSO get the use of Symphony Hall's fabulous acoustic and magnificent interior; the cost to London will be lower than commissioning a brand-new design and buying new materials; Birmingham City Council gets the money from selling off arguably its finest asset; and everybody is happy, with the possible exception of the CBSO.

It is thought that the tab for much of this will be met by a massive donation from the philanthropic pharmaceutical oligarch Ivan Orfulkoff, whose firm will later gain further promotion by offering audiences attending events free manuka honey lozenges. The hall will, obviously, be renamed after the man who has given so much to support its arrival in the capital. It is expected that Orfulkoff Symphony Hall will open its doors to the public in time for Rattle's first concert as LSO music director.
5 months ago | |
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Over at the South Bank, the magnificent Gillian Moore has a new job.

Southbank Centre has just announced that Moore, until now head of classical music, is to become Director of Music, with immediate effect.

Her task, the Centre says, is now to "bring together contemporary and classical music into one team, enabling Southbank Centre to work even more holistically and thematically across music genres. She will expand the already-acclaimed commissioning and educational remit of the music programme and work with the four resident orchestras, along with our contemporary musicians and ensembles, to deliver new and ground-breaking projects."

Moore comments: "“I'm really looking forward to expanding my work at Southbank Centre as Director of Music. This will enable us to forge a future for all music here on the South Bank, a future that is inclusive, innovative and in which as many people as possible will be able to benefit from the great riches London has to offer.”
5 months ago | |
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The great Roby Lakatos and his band take their bows at the end of an extraordinary evening yesterday in which they performed a special gig at the Amati Exhibition at the Langham, London. As editor of the Amati Magazine, I had the enviable task of introducing them and was therefore able to sit right at the front, at times virtually underneath Roby's violin as he strolled around... and also right next to the cimbalom, an instrument that in my next life I'd like to learn to play.

Roby's cimbalom virtuoso is the great Jeno Lisztes, a performer I've seen and marvelled at many times over. Yesterday his performances included a version of The Flight of the Bumble Bee which...well, I'm sorry, Yuja, but you've got competition there. Having been curious about his name and any possible relation to a certain other Hungarian name that is similar but shorter, I finally got to ask him the billion-pound question, "So, has 'Lisztes' got anything to do with Franz Liszt?"

Now, here's a little correction. "Liszt", he says, means "flour" in Hungarian. "Lisztes" means "floury". I heard "flower" and "flowery", but an eagle-eyed, Hungarian-literate reader has put me straight...

 So...yes and no. And a smile. And, perhaps, a mystery. But if the piano had Liszt, the cimbalom has Lisztes. That much is clear.

For this occasion Roby played the "Ex-Stevens" Strad of 1690, lent by Florian Leonhard for the occasion. In the glass case towards the back of the room is the 'Barjansky' Strad cello, likewise of 1690, which Julian Lloyd Webber has put up for sale (also via Leonhard). Standing in front of it is its bodyguard!
5 months ago | |
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The sad news has just reached us that one of the giants of contemporary music in the UK has died. The great Ronald Stevenson, composer and pianist - indeed, composer-pianist - was described by some as a Lisztian figure for our times. A composer outside the mainstream, with Busoni among his most powerful influences, he held true to the integrity of his own voice throughout, was immensely loved and respected, and has been deeply influential - and will remain so for years to come.

Learn more about Stevenson and his life and music at the Ronald Stevenson Society, here.

Here is an introduction to one of his most celebrated pieces, the gigantic Passacaglia on D-S-C-H, from Marc-André Hamelin and Stevenson himself.



And here is an incredibly beautiful piece entitled 'In the Silent Night', from L'art nouveau de chant appliqué au piano, Vol 1, played by Stevenson's friend and devoted advocate, Murray McLachlan.

5 months ago | |
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... it's Friday, it's gone 4 o'clock and it's high time we had a quick look at what Jonas Kaufmann is up to.

Singing Walther in Meistersinger in Munich, that's what - on the near horizon. Opening night is 16 May 2016, Kirill Petrenko conducts, Sara Jakubiak sings Eva and Wolfgang Koch is Hans Sachs.

It will be Kaufmann's first time in the role on stage - he sang it once before in concert at the Edinburgh Festival - and the Bayerische Staatsoper has issued this trailer in which he and the director David Bösch talk about the challenges that Wagner's glorious opera poses for them both. (With English subtitles.)

5 months ago | |
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Morley College has announced the next in its series of workshops for young women music students to try their hands at conducting, led by the conductor Alice Farnham:


CONDUCTING WORKSHOPS FOR FEMALE MUSIC STUDENTS

WC4In March 2014 Morley College ran its first Women Conductors weekend workshop. This was developed in response to wide spread media coverage at the time that commented on the lack of female conductors in the industry. It is designed to create more opportunities for young women to try out orchestral conducting, and is led by acclaimed conductor Alice Farnham.With generous funding and support from Arts Council England the weekend workshops will run during 2015-16. They will be led by Alice Farnham with stagecraft and body language coaches Alma Sheehan and Shirley Keane. In addition students will be given practical experience of conducting small professional ensembles. View the weekend workshop programme and learn more about the tutors.Upcoming workshop dates:9-10 May 2015, Oxford University30-31 May 2015, Leeds College of MusicFurther workshops will be held throughout the UK during 2015/16.The workshops are open for application from women aged 16-25 or in full-time music education either in conservatoires, university or in sixth form and planning to study music full time. Whilst students who already have conducting experience will find this rewarding and challenging, it is also open to students who may think conducting is not for them, but are willing to try it out.Outstanding workshop participants will be selected to take part in the final masterclass day with a leading female conductor and a full orchestra, as part of the Women Conductors at Morley event in 2016.Fees:Participant fee = £150Observer fee = £40How to apply:Send a one page CV alongside a 500 word statement on why you would like to take part in the workshop to womenconductors@morleycollege.ac.uk
5 months ago | |
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The opera world is in shock at the news that mezzo-soprano Maria Radner and bass Oleg Bryjak were on the Germanwings plane that has crashed in the French Alps. 150 people are believed to have been aboard the flight and it is expected that nobody has survived. Everyone's thoughts and hearts are with those who have lost loved ones in this appalling tragedy

5 months ago | |
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...and no, it's not just the cats. I've had a busy weekend's work and here is the latest, therefore, from our Amati Magazine:

a) My interview with the brilliant Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen about Gypsy style, classical stye and what it's like to have a bit of both;

b) The Monday Newsround, with the latest from London, New York, Norfolk and more.

Today I'm doing the Editor's Lunch interview for May. This is nice. I get to take a star to lunch at a wonderful restaurant. This particular star suggested going Italian, so we are - but I'm hoping that the place I've selected will give him a lot more than he bargained for.
5 months ago | |
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