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Classical music | The Guardian
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Equity union says proposed pay and job cuts amount to ‘cultural vandalism’ that threatens company’s artistic future

On Friday, the chorus of English National Opera were on stage in front of more than 2,000 people as part of an exhilarating opening night of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. On Monday they performed a two-minute Gilbert and Sullivan song for a tiny audience of journalists. But it is the latter which may, in the long run, prove the most important.

The 44-strong chorus sang Hail Poetry from The Pirates of Penzance to launch their campaign to save wages, jobs and, in their eyes, the very future of ENO.

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Barbican, London
Vocal works by Holloway and Hillborg were beautifully performed by US soprano Renée Fleming and the BBCSO under Sakari Oramo

Currently the subject of the Barbican’s Artist Spotlight, Renée Fleming gave two works their UK premiere in this programme by the BBC Symphony under its chief conductor, Sakari Oramo.

Appropriately for a singer who speaks excellent French, the first was C’Est l’Extase, a sequence of 10 settings by Debussy of the poet Paul Verlaine, “arranged, linked, and scored with an epilogue by Robin Holloway”, as the published score puts it – though a couple were omitted in this performance.

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Royal Festival Hall, London
Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s approach is unconventional and Marin Alsop and the OAE backed her all the way, but her unmediated intensity brought Kurtág and Schumann’s music alive

The Southbank Centre’s weekend exploring mental health coincided neatly with the 90th birthday this month of György Kurtág, whose music is connected to ideas of psychology more explicitly than most. And the musician forming the fulcrum of its two concerts was Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a violinist who makes music seem a direct, almost unmediated communication of a state of mind.

In his Kafka Fragments, Kurtág set 40 snippets from the writer’s letters and diaries. Some last a few minutes, most only a few seconds. Kopatchinskaja and soprano Anu Komsi performed them on the Festival Hall stage with their backs to the empty auditorium; the audience was on stage and in the choir stalls. In such proximity Komsi could whisper, or use a quiet tone as pure as a sine wave, then shock us with a blast of passionate fortissimo intensity. Kopatchinskaja was her equal partner in these tiny, distilled narratives, weaving sounds around her that crunched, slid, soared, grated or danced – then switching mercurially into a new mood. It was mentally exhausting, like being forced to speed-read a poetry book when you wanted to linger, but it was riveting, too.

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To mark the release of her EP of Bowie covers featuring a string quartet, the musician picks five of her favourite classical-leaning tracks

In the thick of making the minimal-leaning, string quartet David Bowie tribute that I just put out with Jherek Bischoff, I began thinking about strings and my more classical-leaning influences and about how strings can translate melody and music. When I first found Michael Nyman as a teenager, I made it the soundtrack to my life, and it was one of those beautiful backwards discovery experiences as I let his soundtracks lead me to the films of Peter Greenaway. I would probably never have come to appreciate Greenaway’s films if I hadn’t already fallen in love with the music. This is one of my all-time favourite Nyman arrangements, from my all-time favourite Greenaway movie, A Zed and Two Noughts. I love how, like classic Nyman, it just builds and layers and builds.

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3 days ago | |
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Mahler, Brel, Brahms and Woody Allen – the violinist reveals the music and musicians that inspire him

How do you mostly listen to music?
Most of the time in my head! And sometimes at home, especially on vinyl records. I love the vinyl sound. The revival in recent years is really exciting.

What was the first ever record or CD you bought?
My first ever CD was Gidon Kremer and Valery Afanassiev playing the three Brahms violin sonatas and the Busoni sonata. What an inspiring record.

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The acclaimed choreographer explains the origins of Strapless – his new ballet about Madame X, the It Girl of 19th-century Paris who was destroyed by a daring portrait

When I moved to New York 23 years ago, I started going to the Metropolitan Museum every Sunday. On my way to the American wing one day, I spotted this portrait by John Singer Sargent hanging in a stairwell, all on its own. The woman – Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau – looked magnetic, regal and modern. I started to revisit her quite often and wanted to know more. Then I came across the novel Strapless by Deborah Davis. It’s a mixture of fact and fiction, because little was written about Amélie at the time. I found Davis’s version enthralling.

Amélie was obviously charismatic: the kind of woman other women wanted to be like; the kind men wanted to be with

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Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Manchester Camerata and stars of the acid-house era party like it’s 1989 in a messy and euphoric celebration of the legendary superclub

Hacienda Classical is the sort of idea a raver might come up with after a mad one: take the tunes once played in Manchester’s legendary Hacienda club in the acid house “summers of love” and recreate them with a 70-piece orchestra and choir. Thus, a stone’s throw from the original building (now a block of flats), original DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering line up with the Manchester Camerata. There’s a cultural clash as the usually sedate venue plays host to whistling ravers, and has hard-faced bouncers on the door. Veteran Moss Side rapper MC Tunes’ rambling introduction may or may not include the words “nice one, top one, sorted” because he’s totally unintelligible.

It’s an early warning of a deeper problem with the sound, so bad it could be coming through the remnants of the club’s infamous original system, recovered from a skip. A muffled aural soup of mainly bass drum struggles to drown out the crowd, while the orchestra are so inaudible they could be equally playing Beethoven or the Teletubbies theme.

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Coliseum, London
Featuring the best sung Pamina in years from Lucy Crowe, this revival of Simon McBurney’s ENO staging is highly engaging

The exhilarating achievement of Simon McBurney’s highly engaging production of Mozart’s Magic Flute for ENO, first seen at the Coliseum in 2013, is to draw its audience in by returning the piece to its roots as an eclectic entertainment. The unique theatrical personality of the piece is captured right from the start, with the orchestra raised from the pit to become very much part of a stage show that evolves around them and in which, in the case of the flautist and the celeste player, they actively participate.

Related: ENO's woes: opera company begins new year in offstage turmoil

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Royal Opera House, London
A decisive performance of Chabrier’s decorous score is at odds with the lumbering absurdity of the plot of L’Etoile

In director Mariame Clément’s production of Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Etoile (1877), receiving its Covent Garden premiere, we get off to a lively start – the overture is accompanied by mime. Against an oriental screen, on opposite sides of the stage, are a leather Chesterfield and an armchair occupied by two preening gents, as if to evoke a London club in an Edwardian moment. Smith (splendid comedian and actor Chris Addison) vanishes behind his newspaper and pops back into view for each fresh swig of tea. His opposite number, Dupont, is the excellent French actor Jean-Luc Vincent, and in tandem they jolly the evening along.

To the sound of yearning strings, they tuck into breakfast, fidget with sugar tongs and get dressed (Dupont twirls to the music while forcing his foot into a boot). But what they are preparing to face is not the day but the opera itself. This is Clément’s postmodern initiative: they are the critics who will apologise for – or intervene to clarify – a potentially confounding plot. At one point Addison even has an amusing altercation with conductor Mark Elder (celebrating 40 years at Covent Garden), addressing him in the pit, urging him not to repeat a tune (although, actually, it is the orchestra’s decisive performance that glues the evening together).

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London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jurowski
(LPO)

Related: Symphony guide: Rachmaninov's 3rd

The quintessentially Russian melancholy of Rachmaninov’s third symphony was first heard in Britain in November 1937 when Sir Thomas Beecham conducted it with his new London Philharmonic. Today’s LPO plays the exiled composer’s 1939 revision in this live recording made at the Royal Festival Hall last year, Vladimir Jurowski drawing some delightfully seductive playing from the strings and woodwind. He adds an intriguing, though occasionally cloying, curio: his grandfather’s orchestral arrangement of 10 Rachmaninov songs, sung with crystal clarity by Vsevolod Grivnov, a comrade of Jurowski’s from the days of the conductor’s debut at Wexford in 1995.

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