From writing the ultimate tearjerker for Paolo Sorrentino to commemorating the bloodiest day in British military history, David Lang takes it all in his stride. He tells Kate Molleson about the power of repetition and his mechanised co-writer
“I guess I’m emotionally complicated in the most simple terms,” says David Lang, Pulitzer prize-winning US composer, eyeing me with an expression that is simultaneously intense and placid. He’s explaining why his music has become such a favourite of choreographers and film-makers – particularly the Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, who has featured Lang scores in his recent films. In the latest, Youth, Lang was tasked with writing Simple Song #3, hit opus of Michael Caine’s ageing composer character. Basically, he had to write the ultimate tune: a melody so easy that beginners can play it, yet so beautiful that it moves everyone to laughter and to tears.
Peters/Walker/Rolfe Johnson/Rayner Cook/BBC SO/BBC Scottish SO/Del Mar(Lyrita, four CDs)
As far as 20th-century British music was concerned, Lyrita was one of one of the most significant record labels of the 1960s and 70s. It made available, in immaculately performed and engineered recordings, a huge range of works, many of which have never been recorded since. When CDs superseded vinyl in the 1980s, Lyrita was slow to respond. The company’s founder, recording engineer Richard Itter, regarded the sound quality of the digital format as markedly inferior to analogue, and the company went into eclipse. Only over the past decade or so have many of its most important recordings finally been issued on disc.
Since Itter died two years ago, there has been a resurgence of interest in the label, too, as it has begun to explore the wealth of high-quality private tapes, mostly of music by British composers, that Itter assembled over half a century from BBC broadcasts. Many document works that have never been available commercially. Phyllis Tate’s opera The Lodger, choral pieces such as Arthur Bliss’s The Beatitudes and Peter Racine Fricker’s The Vision of Judgement, and symphonies by Arnold Cooke, William Wordsworth and Arthur Butterworth, have already been painstakingly transferred to disc in the Itter Broadcast Collection.
Wigmore Hall, LondonPrina flung around coloratura like it was a weapon, with classy support from period band laBarocca in this all-Gluck concert
In the 1849 poem Contralto, Théophile Gautier described the ability of a low female voice to transcend concepts of gender and attract men and women alike, irrespective of sexual orientation. He was writing about his mistress, the singer Ernesta Grisi, but his words apply equally well to Sonia Prina, whose concert with the period band laBarocca under its founder-conductor Ruben Jais caused quite a stir at the Wigmore Hall. A punk-rock androgyne in black singlet and trousers, Prina gave us a programme of virtuoso Gluck arias, mostly composed in the 1740s, before he adopted the stripped back, mature style that was to have so profound an influence on operatic history.
Royal Festival Hall, LondonThis was a concentrated and riveting realisation of the first part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, with Jo Pohleim’s Alberich and Wolfgang’s Ablinger-Sperrhacke particularly strong
During his visit to London in 1877, Richard Wagner was thrilled by what he saw of Victorian London from the river. “This is Alberich’s dream come true,” he enthused to his wife, Cosima: “Nibelheim, world dominion, activity, work, everywhere the oppressive feeling of steam and fog.”
Related: Exclusive: watch an animated guide to Wagner's Ring cycle
From the archive, 15 March 1985: The great tenor looks back at a sometimes controversial career in the world’s leading opera houses
How can a singer be controversial? Good or bad yes, more or less skilled, more or less loud, beautiful, thrilling, expressive ... Controversial, on the other hand, suggests something more than the notes and Jon Vickers is one of the very few singers in the world to deserve the accolade.
If he is controversial, it does not affect his success or status as one of the tiny handful of top international opera stars. Since making his Covent Garden debut 28 years ago, he has regularly confined himself to an annual tally of 50 to 55 performances all told. His voice at 58 has aged a bit, and as he puts it “taken on a patina”, but it sounds in good enough shape to go on for another decade on the same careful, always well-rehearsed programme. He’s considering adding yet another famous role to his repertoire, and may take the lead in the world premiere of a brand new opera.
Wigmore Hall, LondonBeethoven’s often overlooked songs were the focus of Matthias Goerne and Kristian Bezuidenhout’s thoughtful and thought-provoking recital
Matthias Goerne and Kristian Bezuidenhout devoted the entirety of their recital to songs by Beethoven – unfamiliar territory, for the most part, despite the prevalence of An die ferne Geliebte and a handful of favourites such as Adelaide. This was a programme that primarily gave us an opportunity to assess and reappraise a body of work all too frequently overlooked.
Beethoven’s songs push at the limits of the genre, sometimes with the variability that comes with innovation. The two versions of An die Hoffnung, one performed in each half, tell a story of compositional development in themselves. The first, from 1805, has a lyrical immediacy. The second, written 10 years later, pushes towards an operatic scena with its recitative and bi-partite aria. The Gellert Lieder from 1802 have the hymnic quality we associate with some of Beethoven’s slow movements – that of the Emperor Concerto, for instance.
With American orchestras reluctant to celebrate the music of its great symphonists, fellow composer and Aspen festival’s CEO Alan Fletcher is determined to put them back in the spotlight
What does it say about a nation when it doesn’t do justice to its own composers? Americans are famous for their patriotism, but do we really walk the walk in terms of loving our own culture? You can hear Prokofiev in concert halls across the country, but just try programming Piston. (Walter Piston, 1894-1976, the brilliant American symphonist – see?)
At this summer’s Aspen music festival, we are presenting a group of mid-20th-century modernist American symphonies. There will be major symphonic works by Piston, George Antheil, Erich Korngold, Peter Mennin, Roger Sessions, Charles Ives, Roy Harris and William Schuman. I’m especially happy that audiences will hear Mennin’s brilliant and gutsy Fifth Symphony, and Sessions’s Violin Concerto. Planning our marketing, phrases such as “all but forgotten”, “unjustly neglected”, “unaccountably unknown” kept coming up. As a composer myself, who knew many of the composers whose work will be performed, I struggled against these descriptions. I have not forgotten these composers and their magnificent music. And yet.
Confused by the complexities of Wagner’s Ring? Don’t know your Woglinde from your Wotan? Help is at hand - the Southbank Centre have produced this handy six-minute animation introducing audiences to the 16-hour marathon.
Opera North’s critically acclaimed production of Wagner’s Ring cycle comes to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall this week. To celebrate the first time this epic work will be shown at Royal Festival Hall, a supporting programme of events introduces new audiences to the opera - from workshops and performances to jewellery-making (your own ring of course).
The Festival Hall tickets are all-but sold out (although it’s always worth queuing for returns), but all four operas will also be live-streamed, free, into the Clore Ballroom, which has been transformed for the occasion into an English country park with AstroTurf, fake trees and picnic blankets. This film will be shown before each opera.
The neo-classical composer is shaking the establishment with his experimental piano, but it manipulates the emotions too
In what may be the most profoundly German experience of my life, I’m sitting by the banks of the River Spree in Berlin, in the shadow of a vast, Communist-era complex of recording studios. The building once housed the state’s entire radio industry but it’s currently being used as a base by Hamburg-born composer and pianist Nils Frahm, who is telling me about the emotional resonance of toilet brushes.
Related: A post-Nils Frahm playlist
Principal of Guildhall School of Music and Drama sends message to EU students that they remain welcome despite leave vote
Higher education faces the challenge of making it clear to overseas students that the UK is still a vibrant, tolerant and open country in spite of the vote to leave the EU, the principal of one of Europe’s leading conservatoires has said.
Before the vote, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama released striking photographs of its young symphony orchestra with and without EU students. In total, 49 of its 109 orchestra members come from other European Union countries.
"Being available to our patrons on a mobile platform is more important than ever. InstantEncore makes it easy for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra team to collaborate and get lively content out to PSO mobile app users in a consistent and timely manner. The personalization and engagement that InstantEncore offers is key for us to find new ticket buyers and subscribers and keep them coming back!"