Symphony Hall, BirminghamSoloist Alexandre Tharaud brings all the right moves to Hans Abrahamsen’s atmospheric concerto for piano left hand
Hans Abrahamsen’s composing career has developed in phases, including a period in the 1990s when he produced nothing new at all. But over the last decade he has written some of the most bewitching music to have emerged from Europe so far this century, works that seem to reinvent familiar musical devices in an utterly original way.
Two years ago, the City of Birmingham Symphony gave the British premiere of one of the most extraordinary and exceptionally beautiful of those pieces, the song cycle Let Me Tell You, which Abrahamsen composed for the soprano Barbara Hannigan, using texts from Paul Griffiths’ novel. The success of that piece (which went on to win the hugely prestigious Grawemeyer award, and which the CBSO is bringing to the Proms in August), encouraged the orchestra to be co-commissioners of another piece, Left, Alone, a concerto for piano left hand, which Abrahamsen composed for Alexandre Tharaud, who gave the world premiere in Cologne in January. Tharaud was the wonderfully agile soloist at Symphony Hall, too, with Ilan Volkov conducting.
The scene is Pleasure, a gay club in an unnamed city in the north of England, “where men come to express their instincts and desires”. Hedonism rules. Out the back with her knitting and her bumper pack of bleach is Val, lovely Valerie, “belle of the bogs! Lily of the Lavvie! Queen of the Latrine”, the middle-aged woman who wipes up after her clientele and offers the maternal wisdom their mothers cannot. Why does she do it? Her secret is central to the tragedy. Mark Simpson’s new chamber opera, to a libretto by Melanie Challenger, deftly directed by Tim Albery and designed by Leslie Travers, received its world premiere on Thursday at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, in a collaboration between Opera North, the Royal Opera and Aldeburgh Music. With a sterling cast led by Lesley Garrett – powerfully eloquent, suppressing her natural glamour and embracing dowdiness – and Steven Page brilliant as a cynical drag queen, all angles and bones and bling and slap, it has the makings of a hit.
It will be fascinating to see Simpson’s prodigious talent develop
Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) had links both with Andrew Nethsingha – they grew up, decades apart, in the surroundings of St Michael’s College, Tenbury, where Harvey was a chorister and Nethsingha’s father was organist – and with St John’s College, Cambridge, where Harvey was a student and Nethsingha now directs the choir. This album of liturgical choral music pays wonderful tribute to Harvey. Works include the ecstatic Praise Ye the Lord and Toccata for Organ and Tape, the richly challenging Missa Brevis and several other short works. Harvey used to describe music coming out of silence and dissolving back into it. It’s a good starting point. The Choir of St John’s tackles all with confidence and clarity.
Simon Trpceski (piano)(Wigmore Hall Live)
Unlike so many collections of piano works on CD, Wigmore Hall’s live recordings are proper recitals, meticulously planned to offer that satisfying arc of emotion that marks out an outstanding concert. Here, the wondrously talented Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski opens daringly with Brahms’s wistful Intermezzo, Op117, before a dazzlingly reading of the Op24 Variation and Fugue on a theme by Handel. Then the totally different soundworld of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales bursts forth in all its dizzying glamour, before a selection of Poulenc’s charming Novelettes and Improvisations brings this masterly recital to a classy close. A disc to savour. Highly recommended.
From requests for disused shops, paperbacks, toys, to an ocean bed, composers have kept BCMG on their toes. Outgoing artistic director Stephen Newbould reflects on the challenges and excitement at the cutting edge of contemporary music
What do you do when a composer announces that the work you’ve just commissioned for 15 musicians will need 1,000 performers; or asks for the premiere to be in a boarded-up shop; or wants you to time precisely how long it takes to get from the top floor of your concert hall to the bottom?
Smile, breathe deeply, and cheer. Today’s composers like to tread new territory, and in hearing things afresh, they sometimes need to rewrite the rulebook. This urge to explore is what makes contemporary music so exhilarating and so unexpected. And it’s why I love it.
Despite having reputation for supreme talent, Kramer’s limited repertoire may hinder him in what will undoubtedly prove a demanding role as artistic director
Although many names were circulating in anticipation of ENO’s announcement of a new artistic director to fill the vacancy left by John Berry’s departure last summer, I doubt if Daniel Kramer’s was high on many people’s lists. At first sight he seems an unlikely choice for the role; though he’s regularly singled out as one of the most talented of the rising stage directors’ generation that has been mostly as a result of his work in the spoken theatre. His work in opera is quite limited to date – he is currently working at the Coliseum on ENO’s forthcoming Tristan and Isolde, which opens in June, but his previous experience consists of half a dozen shows, two for ENO – Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy at the Young Vic, and Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle in the main house – together with Carmen for Opera North, Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna in Manchester and Pelléas et Melisande and Die Zauberflöte elsewhere in Europe.
Related: English National Opera appoints Daniel Kramer as artistic director
ENO hoping American-born director will bring stability to company that has lurched from crisis to crisis over past two years
The theatre and opera director Daniel Kramer has been appointed to one of the most challenging jobs in UK arts: artistic director of English National Opera.
Related: Daniel Kramer will have to be a quick learner to impress at ENO
Total Immersion: Henri Dutilleux | Horns Strings And Harmony | Olli Mustonen | Ensemble Modern | Igor Levit
While orchestras around the country celebrated Dutilleux’s centenary at the start of the year, the BBC Symphony have reserved their tribute for the last of this season’s Total Immersion days. There’s a programme of chamber music, and an evening of shimmering orchestral works conducted by Pascal Rophé.
Music of every genre, every culture and every period employs repeated phrases for effect. Why do we love to listen to the same things again and again?
“It is a principle of music to repeat the theme. Repeat and repeat again as the pace mounts.” William Carlos Williams had it right, in words later set by one of music’s most repetition-obsessed composers, Steve Reich in his The Desert Music.
But it’s not just the minimalists, the likes of Reich or Philip Glass. Repetition is a musical fundamental that connects every culture on Earth. And it’s not just the songs, symphonies or operas we love that are so often built on patterns that repeat – drumbeats, rhythms, melodies, harmonic cycles – it’s also that we love to listen to the same music, the same recording, again and again. And instead of being bored by the fact that we know that particular moment of achingly expressive vibrato is coming up on Billie Holliday’s recording of Summertime; or that the fugue in the Kyrie from Bach’s B-minor Mass is going to resolve in its final bar so radiantly into the major key from the minor; or that, despite our fondest hopes, Violetta is always going to die to those morbidly delicious strains of Verdi’s La Traviata, our enjoyment increases the more we hear them. Far from diluting our pleasure, repeating them only seems to amplify our involvement in these musical experiences.
Howard Assembly Room, LeedsMark Simpson’s inventive new opera finds heartwarming emotion in the parade of colourful characters passing through the toilets of a gay club
Lesley Garrett’s career has taken a curious trajectory, from ENO principal and prime-time television diva to scrubbing the toilets of a gay nightclub. At least, that’s the undignified situation in which she finds herself in Mark Simpson’s new opera, performed by Psappha and jointly commissioned by Opera North, Aldeburgh Music and the Royal Opera.
Related: Welcome to the Pleasuredome … Mark Simpson's opera debut
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