Simon Holt's collaboration with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, since he became its composer-in-association in 2008, has resulted in some of his most striking recent scores. The latest of them to be premiered is a concerto, Morpheus Wakes, which Holt composed in 2011 for the principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic, Emmanuel Pahud.
This 15-minute portrait of the shape-shifting Greek god of sleep, first "thawing out of a slow, dark-hued and quite sparse permafrost-covered landscape" and later "hankering for release", according to Holt, pushes even Pahud's astonishing virtuosity to the limit. In the first of the two movements, he plays an alto flute, often at the very top of its range, before taking up the standard instrument for the second, while the two flutes in the orchestra (which lacks violins) extend that sound world with piccolo and bass flute.
Experiencing opera at Iford is always an intimately involving affair, but early Italian opera suits the cloistered space so well that the audience feels transported back through the centuries.
Just as effortlessly, director Justin Way and his designer Kimm Kovac achieve a timeless quality for their vision of Monteverdi's opera, setting it a century ago with the connotations of all-out war, and invoking both the sense of Penelope's despair at the loss of her Ulysses, and the hope implicit in her rock-like constancy. Rowan Hellier's fine mezzo embodies the dignity of this suffering in a tightly focused performance, while Jonathan McGovern's burnished baritone embraces both the heroism of Ulysses and the emotional torture of this culminating episode of his odyssey.
A revolution is afoot in classical music. You can feel its pull in the concert-going world, like the irresistible gravity of a planet. People are bored of being bored in concert halls. Put another way, the classical music industry is grasping a cold reality: if it doesn't wake up to the challenge of attracting a new audiences, live concerts will end up confined to the garden parties of oligarchs, and the golden age of the classical album will die on a digital skewer.
That's why the BBC Proms has transformed itself from a magnificent Reithian culture castle into a global-music event of dazzling range and brand impact. That's why the London Sinfonietta, the OAE and a host of other innovators have ripped up the concert rulebook in order to strip classical music of its Teflon suit of pretension. And that's why last year's inaugural Bristol Proms released a wild range of digital/classical experimentation and managed to create such a lively atmosphere that a maverick physicist felt it was appropriate to attempt to crowd-surf during the Hallelujah Chorus.
Sydney Opera House
This cool interpretation of Mozart's classic is aloof but revelatory with a dark central performance from Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the serial seducer
During the late 17th century, Europe saw a cultural movement that brought on not only the scientific revolution, but also the dawn of a new philosophical era. The age of enlightenment was set in motion by philosophers such as Locke, Voltaire, Bacon and Descartes, and it is during its death that the celebrated Scottish opera director David McVicar sets his new production of Don Giovanni.
A black curtain shrouds the stage as the audience enters, revealing hints of the graveyard behind it. Reportedly inspired by a catacomb filled with 4,000 bodies beneath a cathedral in Vienna, production designer Robert Jones replicates this image with a set of moving walls and staircases behind which the actors can hide (and die). The costumes, faithful to the neoclassicism of early 19th century Europe, veil the singers with a sense of final judgment. All the main characters, save for the wedding party, remain in a vigil of black.
Pumeza Matshikiza discovered opera as a teenager quite by accident. One day, she was switching between radio stations, and stumbled on the great Swiss soprano Edith Mathis, singing in The Marriage of Figaro. She was spellbound.
Music lessons were, however, beyond the reach of a Xhosa child born in a township on South Africa's Eastern Cape especially in the last years of apartheid. But, as Matshikiza says, "you develop other means". A quick student, she learned African and European music by ear while singing in church choirs.
This year's Proms allow us to hear both of Bach's passions, albeit in radically different treatments. The Berlin Philharmonic brings Simon Rattle's and Peter Sellars' much-discussed "ritualisation" of the St Matthew as part of its visit in September. First, however, came Roger Norrington's interpretation of the St John with the Zürich Chamber Orchestra and Zürcher Sing-Akademie a straightforward concert performance, fascinating, beautiful and erratic in equal measure.
Central to Norrington's approach was the careful yet unobtrusive differentiation of the score's component elements, so we were conscious throughout of how they interlock to form a dramatic and emotional whole. The recitatives that carry the core biblical narrative were taken slowly so that every word could register. The Sing-Akademie used scores for the choruses, but put them aside for the chorales, delivering the former with great intensity, but treating the chorales as moments of quiet introspection. The arias, meanwhile, were big emotional statements, done with operatic grandeur and agility.
There was no finer interpreter of Donizetti's, Verdi's and Puccini's tenor roles throughout his long career than Carlo Bergonzi, who has died aged 90. His singing of all three composers' music evinced an innate sense of how to mould an immaculate line projected on a long breath, an exemplary clarity of diction, and an authoritative use of the particular style called for in interpreting a role. Over and over again, you could hear, and can still hear on his many recordings, how to shape a phrase and to do so with a voice of intrinsic beauty, flawlessly produced, so no effort seemed involved.
He eschewed vocal histrionics, and ensured that the expression was applied from within the aria or ensemble. Far from being a macho tenor, he was the aristocrat of the breed and as such universally admired, even if he did not evoke the visceral excitement of his near-contemporaries Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti.
The first of the BBC Philharmonic's six visits to the Albert Hall this summer was an all-British affair, conducted by Juanjo Mena. Sets of variations bookended the concert; there was Walton's on a theme by Hindemith to begin, Elgar's Enigma to end, while in between came the London premiere of a piece that David Horne composed for the orchestra last year, and the first performance at the Proms for over 60 years of the Violin Concerto by EJ Moeran.
Moeran is one of a clutch of British composers from the first half of the last century whose music seems constantly to be on the edge of a revival. His only symphony, from 1937, got a performance at the 2009 Proms, but that's a much tauter, tougher piece than the Violin Concerto, which appeared five years later, and tends to lapse too easily into pastoral note-spinning. It is indebted to Vaughan Williams in the first two movements and perhaps more to Delius in the last.
Seventeen years ago, the Theatre Royal in Norwich became a place of pilgrimage for Wagnerians when the Norwegian National Opera presented its Ring cycle there for a brief season. Now the theatre is playing host once more to Wagner from across the North Sea, with two recent productions from Theater Freiburg a Parsifal first seen last year, and a Tannhäuser that was new five months ago. Freiburg is not one of the leading German opera houses, but the quality of the Parsifal is a measure of the strength of opera there; it's a show that almost any British company would be happy to have in its repertory.
Frank Hilbrich's production sets out its stall in the opening moments of the prelude, when the curtain rises on a pair of renaissance paintings being devoured by flames: one is of a madonna and child, the other, Christ on the cross. What follows, that suggests, takes place in a post-Christian, post-apocalyptic age, in the ruins of a 21st-century society without the safety-net of belief.
Three hundred years since his birth, Gluck is still remembered for a mere handful of arias, yet he was the most powerful operatic reformer of his time. It is amazing to find in Daniel Behle's fine recital previously unrecorded items from Antigono and Semiramide. The style veers from demonstrative old-style serious opera, with lots of decoration, to eloquent, new-style declamation. As a tenor, Daniel Behle naturally offers the French rewrite of Orphée et Eurydice, flowingly done. His voice is clear, shapely and unfussy, bringing an ideal clarity to Gluck's transparent lines that is well matched by the exciting Greek period ensemble Armonia Atenea.
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