Sparks fly when the Adelaide Symphony orchestra rubs up against a clutch of avant garde musicians, writes Alex Needham
We asked musicians from the avant garde and classical worlds, all playing at Tectonics in Adelaide, about the musical discovery that changed their lives
Belgian former artistic director of Madrid's Teatro Real is praised as 'visionary and generous figure'
Gerard Mortier, the avant-garde artistic director of Madrid's Teatro Real opera house until September last year, has died after battling cancer, the culture ministry has said. He was 70.
Mortier, known for his risk-taking approach to scene work and keen interest in 20th-century opera, commissioned an adaptation of the gay cowboy epic Brokeback Mountain for Teatro Real.
The US composer Charles Wuorinen took six years to complete the opera, and a clearly ailing Mortier attended its premiere in January.
The Belgian prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, led tributes to Mortier, tweeting: "Our country has lost a visionary and generous figure," while the culture minister, Fadila Laanan, said Mortier's "often non-conformist choices, his audacious programming built his international renown".
The Cannes film festival president, Gilles Jacob, hailed Mortier as a "great non-conformist and innovative opera director", and the prominent British music critic Norman Lebrecht called him "brilliant and infuriating".
Mortier won accolades for productions at Teatro Real of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte directed by the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke and Philip Glass's A Perfect American.
Mortier was general director of the Paris opera from 2004 and 2009, and headed the prestigious Salzburg festival from 1991 to 2001.
The Flemish baker's son, who was born in Ghent on 25 November 1943, had gained fame as general director of Belgium's Rola Theatre of the Mint for a decade from 1981.
Patricia Kopatchinskaja captured the punch of Tigran Mansurian's Violin Concerto No 2 in a folk-infused programme
When transcribed and arranged for the concert hall, folk music often loses its instinctive wildness and punch, but these essential qualities were retained in the folk-based items in this Britten Sinfonia programme directed by the Moldovan violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja.
The most substantial example was the Second Violin Concerto by the Armenian Tigran Mansurian, born in Beirut in 1939. Composed in 2006, it finds its inspiration more in the texts of Brahms's Four Serious Songs than in the way they are set. The Concerto's intensity is derived from the way in which Mansurian inserts folk-inflected material into a harmonic template borrowed from early 20th-century modernism; Bartók adopts the reverse process in his Romanian Folk Dances, which followed here.
Kopatchinskaja's inimitable range of tonal colours and dynamics came to the fore in both, boldly emulated by the ensemble's string players. Potent though the Concerto's dark-toned lyricism was – especially in a reading as full-on as this – its achievement was put in the shade by a performance of the Bartók that seemed, for once, to celebrate the rawness of the originals without smoothing away any of their rough edges.
The concert's second half fell just short of the exalted level of the first. Despite the conscientious deliberation exhibited by all involved in Richard Tognetti's string-orchestral arrangement of Janácek's "Kreutzer Sonata" quartet, the sparer original had lost much of its visceral impact. Mendelssohn's skilful D minor Violin Concerto – written when he was just 13, and a fine example of his outstanding gifts as a teenage composer – felt as if it had been drafted in from another programme, energetically played though it was. But the five Brahms Chorale Preludes, rescored by Paul Angerer from the organ originals, and interspersed throughout the evening, were magically done.
Barbican, LondonThe BBCSO and chief conductor Sakari Oramo offered a compelling insight into the Brazilian composer's vast output
Even a whole weekend of concerts would hardly have been enough to do justice to the immense range and variety of Heitor Villa-Lobos's works, let alone to his significance to the history of Brazilian and Latin American music and music education, or to the larger-than-life, self-mythologising personality of the composer himself. The BBC gave itself just the one day: a Total Immersion event comprising three concerts, a talk and a film. After a lunchtime programme of Villa-Lobos's chamber music played by Guildhall School students, and early-evening vocal works from the BBC Singers, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and its Chorus and chief conductor Sakari Oramo offered something much more substantial.
Oramo had selected his programme very carefully, including examples of the three series of pieces – the symphonies, the Bachianas Brasileiras and the Chôroes – that provide some kind of spine to what is such a vast and hugely divergent output. He began with two of Villa-Lobos's colourful Brazilian evocations, opening with the 15-minute Uirapurú, a symphonic poem-cum-ballet built around the song and call of the Amazonian musician wren. It was followed by the fourth of the suites from his score to Humberto Mauro's 1937 film Descobrimento do Brasil, about the first Portuguese settlers in Brazil, which includes a typical combination of a plainchant mass setting and rhythmic, wordless chanting.
The Bachianas was the very well-known Fifth, for soprano (performed here by Anu Komsi) and eight cellos, while the symphony was the Ninth, composed in 1952 and a relatively well-behaved piece by Villa-Lobos's standards, in four compact neoclassical movements that are sometimes curiously reminiscent of Roussel. The two Chôroes from the mid-1920s, though, were thrilling to hear. The Eighth is among Villa-Lobos's greatest orchestral achievements, one of the pieces in which his music seems utterly original and impossible to pigeonhole. The two solo pianos (played heroically by Kathryn Stott and Martin Roscoe) are all but submerged by the teeming, tumbling orchestral textures around them, which constantly seem to be on the brink of disintegration and only stay bound together by the sheer force of Villa-Lobos's creative personality.
The huge choral frieze of Choros No 10, Rasga o Coração, has its texts, in Portuguese and "Amerindian", to keep it together; it may build to a noisy Hollywood-style climax, but before that arrives the exuberant layers of voices and instruments display a Charles Ives-like wildness. Oramo is really in his element in music like this, which offers its own perspective on early 20th-century modernism, and he and his orchestra made sure every bar of it mattered.
To be broadcast on Radio 3's Afternoon on 3 from 18 to 20 March.
Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales are played out in Shoreditch, Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Mahler, Berlioz and Ives, plus Handel's Rodelinda from director Richard Jones
¦ Grimm TalesImmersive theatre for children in the bowels of Shoreditch Town Hall. Do you dare to follow Red Riding Hood into the forest or watch Rapunzel let her hair down? Philip Wilson adapts and directs tales in versions by Philip Pullman. Shoreditch Town Hall, London (020-7739 6176), Friday until 24 April.
¦ RambertA mixed programme of contemporary dance includes a revival of Christopher Bruce's swaggering Rolling Stones tribute, Rooster. Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold (0845-330 3565), Wednesday until 15 March and touring.
¦ San Francisco SymphonyProgrammes featuring Ives, Adams and Berlioz, and Mahler's Third Symphony are on the menu for the UK leg of Michael Tilson Thomas's European tour with his fine orchestra. Symphony Hall, Birmingham (0121-345 0600), Friday; Royal Festival Hall, London (0845 875 0073), Saturday & Sunday.
¦ RodelindaRichard Jones's first Handel production in this country is a cinematic updating to postwar Italy, with some outstanding individual performances, especially from Rebecca Evans, Iestyn Davies and Christopher Ainslie. Coliseum, London (020-7845 9300), tomorrow, Thursday & Saturday.
¦ Dead Dog in a SuitcaseThis should tickle your fancy. The irrepressible Kneehigh tackle John Gay's musical satire of low life in a new version by Carl Grose. The title is different and the show should give a new spin on a modern morality tale. Everyman Liverpool (0151-709 4776), 21 June to 12 July.
¦ Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)Scarlett Johansson plays an alien-seducer at large in Scotland in the latest film from the director of Sexy Beast.
¦ Gateshead Jazz festivalAmerica's Spring Quartet (including sax star Joe Lovano and crossover bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding), Bill Frisell, Django Bates with the Norrbotten Big Band plus other US and European stars play classy northern weekender. Sage Gateshead, (0191-443 4661), 4-6 April.
The conductor’s Tectonic festival pits the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra against solo electronic improvisors, heavy metal guitarists, and a legend from the Fluxus movement
ENO's outstanding new production of Rodelinda at the Coliseum is a reminder of the everyday brilliance of Handel
He wrote at top speed. He improvised. He stole – from himself, from others, from all Europe. At a stroke he made the French, the Italian, the German, even the English style his own. Daily he drew fresh invention from the same patterns his hands had made on the keyboard all his life. The results, an occasional flop notwithstanding, still dazzle. And it all sounds so easy. Beethoven summed up the genius of Handel – for it is him we are praising – saying he achieved "the greatest effects through the simplest means".
This terse maxim should be worn like an amulet to every new Handel encounter. It sharpens our ears to his ingenuity. It helps us understand the nature of a musical miracle. It turns scepticism – I've been prone to it myself – to ashes. As ENO's new Rodelinda reminds us, with a few basic ingredients the German-born English composer could create opera that devastates. The librettos may be burdened with cryptic comments on the politics of Georgian England. The music goes straight to the heart.
Richard Jones, the director, and Christian Curnyn, the conductor, have understood this in a staging as restrained as it is seemingly over the top, as embellished and at times crazy as it is raw. The main set is a partitioned box of connecting rooms with one side open to the audience, a device Jones used successfully in his staging of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk for the Royal Opera House. Jeremy Herbert's designs, with costumes by Nicky Gillibrand and lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherrin, revel in detail.
Musical standards throughout, on stage and in the pit, are outstanding. Curnyn's approach is brisk and buoyant. The ENO orchestra perform with period-instrument vigour and springy definition. An expert and responsive continuo section of cello, theorbo and harpsichord add texture and aural colour. Whether or not you like the production – I did – will depend on taste. "It's so ENO," commented a friend, in no mood to pay compliments. She might have objected to the sexy onstage tango or the noises off: the bangs, stomps and sighs of Handel's tortured characters as they raced across the stage in hope of fulfilling their dubious ambitions.
The work's original setting is 7th-century Lombardy. The cocktail bar in which Bertarido (Iestyn Davies) sings his pastoral aria, or the seedy surveillance room where his rival, Grimoaldo (John Mark Ainsley), in shiny suit, slavers over the CCTV feed, may not be everyone's idea of what used to be called the dark ages. (Do they want tights and vassals?) But Milanese rivalries don't change much, whether updated to post-second world war as here, or as witnessed in the berlusconismo of Lombardy today. Then, as now, the moral compass ricochets in search of north, disabled by rival thugs and hooligans.
Among Handel opera plots, Rodelinda is mercifully straightforward. King Bertarido, thought dead, has been ousted from power by Grimoaldo, who then tries to woo the grieving queen, Rodelinda. Bertarido pretends to be dead and, while he's at it, tests his wife's fidelity. Yet essentially he is honourable, as is his sister, Eduige – a monster who eventually softens, especially when she gets her own way – and Rodelinda too, whose glorious, noble music ranges from grief to anger to tender reunion.
Rebecca Evans excels in the title role, lavishing each aria with finely measured expression, now spitting outrage, now hushed in loving embrace. Susan Bickley's Eduige is a deft liaison of ferocity and wit. Richard Burkhard's Garibaldo, sidekick to Ainsley's overbearing but convincing Grimoaldo, conjures lively villainy. As the hapless adviser, Unulfo, Christopher Ainslie offers a more occluded but still beautiful version of the countertenor voice, in contrast to Davies's glowing Bertarido.
The cast is small, the pairings of amity and enmity instantly clear. By dress and gesture, as well as staging and action, Jones has ensured the narrative is transparent. Yet no single concept is rammed down our throats. The production is helped further by Amanda Holden's new translation. She uses concise language to ensure audibility. With phrases such as "I loathe you", "I'm suspicious and anxious and lovesick" or "My darling husband", sung repeatedly as the da capo aria form demands, we know exactly what is happening. A longer than usual rehearsal time has paid off. Each word could be heard.
There's plenty of Handel about right now. British musicians lead the world in this repertoire. The London Handel festival, run by Laurence Cummings (who is also the new director of the Göttingen Handel festival), runs until 18 April. Jane Glover, a skilled Handelian, will conduct Ariodante at the Royal Academy of Music from 20 March. The ever-pioneering John Eliot Gardiner – celebrating 50 years of his illustrious Monteverdi Choir last week – has recorded all the major stage works and oratorios. After 40 discs in the catalogue I stopped counting. Nicholas McGegan, Harry Christophers, Richard Egarr, Harry Bicket – the list of top UK Handel exponents is long, and apologies to those not even mentioned.
Yet no single organisation has brought the composer's operas back to life more assiduously or persuasively than ENO, whose radical reinvention began with Nicholas Hytner's Xerxes in 1988. Jones and Curnyn, like others since, have continued that tradition. It helps when a production has a big star. The night belonged to Iestyn Davies. An ex-chorister of St John's College, Cambridge, Davies has suddenly accelerated from "promising British countertenor" to world-class artist. He can sing, whether full blast or hushed pianissimo, with a strength, steadiness of tone and musical confidence almost unknown in a voice type which has tended – shout me down – to prefer ethereal frailty as a calling card. He also has an understated sense of comic timing.
Rodelinda is not a funny opera in any sense. Yet there were many laughs, not always for obvious reasons. Handel might have enjoyed the response. Nothing reveals his elliptical character more than the observation of his friend Charles Burney, the musicologist father of Fanny: "[His] general look was somewhat heavy and sour, but when he did smile it was his sire the sun, bursting out of a black cloud. There was a sudden flash of intelligence, wit and good humour… which I hardly ever saw in any other." As early spring struggles to reveal itself, a smile from Handel may be the tonic we all need.
Daishin Kashimoto (violin), Konstantin Lifschitz (piano)(Warner Classics)
Daishin Kashimoto, a Japanese national born in London who studied at the Juilliard when barely in long trousers, started prodigiously young – he gave his first full recital aged nine and has scooped most of the world's top violin prizes. Today he is first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He also has a lively career as soloist and chamber musician. His clean, elegant tone and peerless accuracy suit these Beethoven sonatas, requiring digital precision in, say, the early "classical" Op 12 set or the witty, tail-chasing Scherzo of the C minor, Op 30 No 2. In contrast he easily embraces the big-boned ambitions of the Kreutzer Sonata Op 47, never sounding forced. Konstantin Lifschitz is a sympathetic, alert partner, even if the recording seems to favour the violin perhaps more than Beethoven would have expected. But the musicianship is never in question.
Marta Mathéu (soprano), Jordi Masó (piano)(Naxos)
Stephen Hough has described the work of Catalan composer Federico Mompou (1893-1987) as "the music of evaporation", an astute observation underlined by these delightful songs. Mompou had no interest in development or counterpoint; brevity and concision were his hallmarks, allied to a gift for liquid, wistful melody in the manner of Fauré and Satie. Marta Mathéu sings with appropriately affecting simplicity, with translucent accompaniment from Jordi Masó, charting Mompou's long life of composition from the first 1915 songs to his celebrated 1973 Paul Valéry settings, and including a perfect illustration of Mompou's spare technique, his exquisite miniatures, Combat del somni.
"InstantEncore made launching a mobile app seem effortless."