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Setback for company after Russian star pulls out of production saying her voice has ‘evolved in a different direction’

One of the world’s leading sopranos has pulled out of the Royal Opera’s autumn production of Norma because her “voice has evolved in a different direction”.

Anna Netrebko released a statement on Tuesday giving her reasons for what the company admitted was a frustrating late withdrawal.

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Royal Festival Hall, London
Blomstedt brought out the best in the Philharmonia Orchestra in a genial and gleaming concert

Herbert Blomstedt strode on to the platform looking nowhere near his 88 years, and if the Philharmonia seemed pleased to welcome him at the start of this concert, by the end they were positively beaming. Blomstedt’s conducting may be slightly more economical of gesture these days, but its vigour is uncompromised.

In Mozart’s Symphony No 39, he drew out a sound that was richly textured, even opaque – when the solo woodwind got their moment in the second movement, it was arresting to hear these characterful voices finally emerging from the blend. Yet Blomstedt shaped the music so as to emphasise its geniality, drawing out little bursts of sunlight as the first movement danced to a close, and throwing the rising figures in the third movement up into the air.

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Both Mendelssohns were composers, yet it is Felix not Fanny who is remembered. Why have so many female artists remained unheard?

In the 1980s a retired urban planner of Johannesburg named Aaron Cohen, with no musicological training but with a great love of music, began publishing his Encyclopedia of Women Composers. In two volumes, it contained around 5,000 entries. Even allowing for the fact that many of these women’s scores were lost, the concert-goer of today would be forgiven for expressing surprise at the sheer number here, for it is certainly not reflected in programmes. You could, without too much difficulty, pass through an entire concert-going life without hearing a single note written by a woman. This is despite recuperative efforts by individual musicians (for example, Oliver Knussen’s recordings of the remarkable American modernist Ruth Crawford Seeger), and a flourishing of feminist musicology from the late 1980s. The institutions of classical music tend to be heavily invested in a carefully protected performance tradition that hands on the precious flame of white, male genius from generation to generation and has little interest, for all kinds of reasons, in disrupting the canon. The weight of this history still bears down in the contemporary postmodern world, in which figures such as Judith Weir, Tansy Davies, Anna Meredith, Emily Hall and Cheryl Frances-Hoad (to name only Britons) have successful and fruitful careers. Female compositional talent is still “othered”, to a degree that male colleagues are sometimes blind to, and indeed that women themselves might prefer not to countenance – not unreasonably finding climbing the mountain more productive than pausing to contemplate the drop.

Sounds and Sweet Airs, by cultural historian Anna Beer, is a timely bulwark against forgetting, and proffers a number of reasons for the fading of female artists’ reputations. Her subjects are eight European composers who form a kind of chain through four centuries, beginning with the early-modern Tuscan, Francesca Caccini, whose 1625 opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero was performed at the Brighton early music festival last year; and ending with Elizabeth Maconchy, an English composer of Irish heritage, who died in 1994. To make work, these artists, like their male counterparts, required aptitude, a supportive family, an excellent musical education, and either a sufficient income from their work or other means by which to keep going. They encountered obstacles, on the other hand, that their male composers didn’t, whether the vagaries of childbearing (Clara Schumann ploughed on as a composer, and especially a performer, through eight pregnancies) or straightforward full-on sexism (Maconchy was told in the 1930s by publisher Leonard Boosey that “he couldn’t take anything except little songs from a woman”). More subtly, but no less powerfully, female composers have had to negotiate notions of what has constituted a “suitable” activity for a woman.

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Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Gourlay’s pulverising Montagues and Capulets upstages ambitious attempts to soundtrack Shakespeare via the Turing test and gay cruising

The original Manchester School of composers, centred around Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr and the late Peter Maxwell Davies, exerted a decisive influence on the course of contemporary English music. A second generation has yet to emerge; though the BBC Philharmonic is sufficiently confident about the talent in the city to have commissioned five young composers based or trained in Manchester to create new pieces to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

These 10-minute interludes form the incidental music to the Sonnets in the City series; a sequence of contemporary dramas set in Manchester and read by Maxine Peake. It’s an ambitious project, though curiously ill-coordinated. Some of the dramas were not scheduled for broadcast until after this concert was given; while others, bizarrely, were going out on air at the same time that the performance was taking place. As no texts were made available, it required a prodigious memory for Shakespeare’s shorter poetry to know precisely what the composers were responding to. Perhaps it was important that the compositions should stand alone on their own merits. But it still left a frustrating sense that you were listening to background music for radio plays you couldn’t hear, inspired by sonnets you couldn’t read.

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The pianist on photography, sailing, family life, cloakroom queues and mountains.

How do you mostly listen to music?

The times when I most often find myself listening to classical music seems to be in the second halves of concerts after having performed a concerto in the first half (I usually try to stay on and listen). These are some of the rare occasions when I don’t associate classical music with also having to perform it myself in the immediate future, and hence I find it more enjoyable. It may sound strange, but a lot of the time classical music just makes me anxious so I don’t listen to it as much as it seems to be expected of a musician, especially during a busy touring season.

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City Halls, Glasgow
Oliver Knussen’s lightness and lack of pomp created an evening of wondrous moments, crowned by charismatic viola player Jane Atkins’s Britten

Related: SCO/Ticciati – review

Oliver Knussen writes music that is luminous, honed and full of fine detail; the same applies to the way he conducts. In his programmes with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, he always puts light between musical elements – as if he wants us to marvel at each ingredient on its own and then appreciate how it all fits together. These concerts are like lecture-demonstrations without words; analysis classes without the sermonising.

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Cadogan Hall, London
The orchestra that has so often commissioned Philip Glass’s writing gave an expressive reading of his Ninth symphony under Dennis Russell Davies

He only began composing symphonies in his mid-50s, yet 24 years later, Philip Glass is already working on his 11th, having passed the psychologically important hurdle of his Ninth in 2011.

A substantial piece in three movements, totalling 50 minutes, it was presented here by the Bruckner Orchester Linz under its chief conductor, Dennis Russell Davies. The orchestra has been responsible for commissioning and premiering more of Glass’s symphonic works than any other organisations or individuals.

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Composer and conductor who wrote music for RSC productions of all Shakespeare’s plays

If music is now seen as an integral part of modern Shakespeare productions, the credit belongs to Guy Woolfenden, who has died aged 78. He was head of music with the Royal Shakespeare Company for 37 years, composed more than 150 scores for the company, and not only made the band visible but often used rarely heard, or specially invented, instruments. Adrian Noble, one of the many directors with whom he worked at Stratford, said: “Guy believed that music should be at the heart of a classical company, as it was for Shakespeare.”

Like Trevor Nunn, with whom he came to work closely, Guy was born in Ipswich, the son of Kathleen (nee Groom) and Harold (“Woolfy”), founder of the Cambridge Music Shop in the early 1960s. Guy was educated initially at Westminster Abbey choir school and sang at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. From Whitgift school, Croydon, he went on to study music at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.

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Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
The actor’s 1769 ode, with music by Arne, was paired with Sally Beamish’s Shakespeare Masque, with texts by Carol Ann Duffy, in this celebratory Ex Cathedra concert

Celebrations of Shakespeare’s genius are not an exclusively modern phenomenon. In 1769, the actor David Garrick organised “An Ode upon dedicating a building and erecting a statue, to Shakespeare at Stratford upon Avon”. Garrick wrote the texts – the “testimonies”; some he also delivered, while others were sung to airs and choruses by Thomas Arne, the leading English composer of his day.

The forces involved were considerable – soloists, full-size choir and large orchestra – but the original performing material has been lost. All that has survived is a short score, containing Arne’s eight arias and a brief semi-chorus. That formed the starting point for the reconstruction of the Garrick Ode by Adrian Horsewood for its first performance since the 18th century in Ex Cathedra’s Shakespeare 400th-anniversary programme. The concert also contained a brand-new Shakespeare Masque that the choir had commissioned from composer Sally Beamish and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

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Wigmore Hall, London
Ireland’s finest and friends – and Schubert – raised the roof in a glittering centenary celebration of Irish culture in Britain

Quite right. Schubert was not Irish – not even a touch of the blarney – but his music filled the first half of a joyful celebration of the contribution of Irish musicians to international musical life. The event was, too, a commemoration of those on both sides who died in the Easter Rising of April 1916 and on the Somme in the first world war. John Gilhooly, ingenious director of Wigmore Hall whose brainchild this was, used all his Limerick charm to pack the hall with politicians, ambassadors, poets, priests – a rabbi too – and ordinary punters, many wearing a bright splash of emerald green. It’s the first time many of us will have brushed against Irish national dress in the Wigmore foyer. The mood was one of generous collaboration. Free drinks were served: wine but no Guinness.

The idea of the programme, old, new and traditional, was to trace the two-way journey of Irish culture, from the period of the Rising when the chief desire was to “de-anglicise” and return to Gaelic roots, to the present: a country that is part of Europe and forges connections across the world. Four young Irish star singers, choirs from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Royal Academy of Music and various instrumentalists, including pianist Finghin Collins and clarinettist Michael Collins, joined forces with one of Ireland’s greatest exports, the mezzo-soprano Ann Murray, magnificent in a shock of green satin. The RTE Contempo Quartet, based in Galway, gave the world premiere of Gerald Barry’s revised String Quartet No 1, fast, often hushed, crisp and incandescent. Barry calls his revision “the fleshing out of a skeleton”, though the music itself sounds like that process in reverse.

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