Nicolas Hodges (Wergo)
Discs of Walter Zimmermann’s works seem to come along every few years, providing reminders of what a quietly singular and enigmatic figure in contemporary European music he is. Nicolas Hodges’ collection covers Zimmermann’s most recent piano pieces, all composed between 2001 and 2006. There are six works here, but easily the most substantial is Voces Abandonadas, a two-part cycle lasting almost 40 minutes that was inspired by the writings of the Italian-born Argentinian poet Antonio Porchia (1885-1968).
Porchia’s aphorisms circulated widely in Argentina during the years of military dictatorship and were eventually published in Spain in 1982 as Voces Abandonadas. Zimmermann made sound representations of each of them, and these musical “sentences” – 514 altogether, rarely more than one bar long and composed, diary-like, over the course of a year – follow one another without breaks, sometimes resulting in stark contrasts of mood and style. The dedicatees of the two parts of Voces Abandonadas are Helmut Lachenmann and Morton Feldman, perhaps defining the twin poles of Zimmermann’s music, yet the music never remotely echoes either composer. Though he has always distanced himself from the serialism of the 1945 postwar avant garde, this terse music seems to hark back most of all to the world of Stockhausen’s early piano pieces of the 50s, which Stockhausen referred to as his “drawings”. Despite its multi-layered allusiveness, Zimmermann’s compendium has a similar kind of monochrome spareness.
Pamphlet distributed to members who own 1,276 permanent seats offers advice on maximising resale profits on ticketing sites
Royal Albert Hall members have exchanged detailed advice on how to sell their seats on ticket touting sites, prompting the venue’s former president to label its stewardship a “national disgrace”.
The members, about 330 individuals who own 1,276 permanent seats in the 5,272 capacity venue, were sent a document offering tips on how to use online resale sites. The pamphlet tells members they can eschew the RAH’s official ticket return system and use controversial “secondary” ticketing sites such as Viagogo and StubHub to make more money.
The director of Opera North’s reworking of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic tale explains how a once nationalist art form can retain its power in our global age
If you are Russian, chances are you spent your childhood Christmases watching the 1952 animation of The Snow Maiden on television. This beautiful film is based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s much loved opera, which in turn takes its story (based on a Russian fairytale) from Alexander Ostrovsky’s 1873 play. It is barely known outside Russia but it is as popular as Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel are in the UK.
The Snow Maiden is a teenage girl with a heart of ice whose very existence offends the Sun-God. Only when she learns to love, as her heart melts, will the Sun-God be appeased and so bring about the arrival of summer. Like so many folk mythologies, it’s a tale of a rite of passage to adulthood but also a myth about sacrifice enabling fertility. It’s the universal myth of the Rite of Spring, which has long fascinated artists from Hans Christian Andersen to Igor Stravinsky. It is also an example of opera’s recurring fascination with the person – usually a woman – who finds a love so strong that they are willing to die for it. That’s at the heart of La Traviata and La Bohème. The story also has much in common with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the great English celebration of the coming of summer and the rekindling of love.
Orchestra’s musical director in waiting says new major venue is needed but acknowledges challenges of building one
Sir Simon Rattle has expressed optimism that a new world-class concert hall will be built in London and said it was very much needed as the London Symphony Orchestra’s current venue, the Barbican, was not able to accommodate about a fifth of the entire orchestral repertoire.
Rattle, who takes up the baton as the LSO’s music director in September, said a new hall was “an if not a when” but he acknowledged that the mooted cost of £278m was too high in the current climate.
Royal Opera House, LondonJoyce El-Khoury is immediately endearing and Sergey Romanovsky and Artur Rucinski are similarly excellent in an intelligent and moving revival of Richard Eyre’s production
Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of Verdi’s La Traviata has long been a Royal Opera mainstay, carefully moulded over the years to the many casts that have appeared in it. Its latest revival, overseen by Andrew Sinclair, is among its finest, notable above all for its focused dramatic integrity and subtlety of insight.
Joyce El-Khoury and Sergey Romanovsky, both debutants, play Violetta and Alfredo, charting the couple’s tragic relationship with detailed veracity. You sense the mutual attraction from the outset. He hides desire behind a rather lofty reserve, and obsession lurks tellingly beneath his gloriously voiced ardour. She, clearly smitten, is confused and unusually calculating in her initial response. Her smoky tone can harden at the top: Sempre Libera brings with it some moments of effort, but is rightly about conflict rather than display.
Barbican, London Peter Sellars’s reading of Ligeti’s opera as a post-Chernobyl parable weakens its anarchic humour; but, under Simon Rattle, the LSO and some very fine soloists, the music is radiant
London should have seen Peter Sellars’ take on György Ligeti’s only opera in 1999, when the production he had unveiled at the Salzburg festival two years earlier was due to come to Covent Garden. But the then newly renovated Royal Opera House was still having technical teething problems and the show was cancelled. We’ve finally seen it now, though, more or less: the semi-staging that Sellars has devised for the London Symphony Orchestra’s performances with Simon Rattle follows the same 20-year-old line, setting Le Grand Macabre in a world of nuclear catastrophe.
Related: Don't Panic: learning to love Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre
The British baritone discusses the musicians who inspire him, entering a talent show as part of a boy band – and serenading commuters on the Paris Métro
I received a wonderful, top-end record player as a wedding present many years ago and I still love playing my substantial vinyl collection on it. However, I travel a great deal and it is much easier for me to bring my music with me on my laptop or phone. I love vinyl for the sound and feel but I would have to vote digital for the convenience.
Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff The BBC National Orchestra of Wales put the emphasis on happiness and groove – rounded off by a lullaby – in the first of its series celebrating rebellious composers, including Sawer, Nyman and Bryars
Jeremy Bentham’s axiom, “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”, was invoked in this first of two BBC National Orchestra of Wales Great Brits concerts, featuring composers who ostensibly have rebelled against tradition. David Sawer’s The Greatest Happiness Principle specifically references Bentham and his brother Samuel’s Panopticon, and the work’s bright and tight flow, with its darker, mischievous final sting of organised orchestral mayhem, seemed as fresh as when BBCNOW premiered it two decades ago.
Conductor Clark Rundell brought an expansive richness to the string processionals of Howard Skempton’s Lento, conceived as a companion to Wagner’s Prelude to Parsifal. Ironic then that the strings, albeit now fewer, were rather overindulged in Michael Nyman’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings. Soloist Mahan Esfahani’s ebullient ostinati will doubtless emerge more clearly in the future broadcast; here it was the expressiveness he brought to the poignant tango episode which stood out.
City Halls, Glasgow The disciples break bread with Jesus 2,000 years on in an intense drama semi-staged by the BBCSSO – which, like most meals, could have been more balanced
The Last Supper is Harrison Birtwistle’s intense and mysterious “dramatic tableau” — an opera, but more static and more stylised — with a libretto by the late Canadian poet Robin Blaser. It premiered in 2000 and was specifically a millennium piece: it deals with time, the weight we put on single moments (the striking of midnight, the Crucifixion), how we rework those moments in hindsight, how we replay old stories with horrible inevitability and re-enact rituals we would rather escape. Hearing the work in 2017, its depiction of historical amnesia and collective entrapment felt starkly relevant.
This is not easy entertainment by anyone’s standards. Birtwistle himself has called it “a tough grub”, and though we all know the story, broadly speaking, the detailed implications are obscure. Time telescopes across two millennia but for two hours nothing much happens. The premise is that Ghost — Greek chorus, conscience of the audience, sung with superb conviction by Susan Bickley — invites the disciples to reconvene for another Last Supper. The men trickle in, greet each other, chat about what they’ve been up to for the past 2,000 years. Judas turns up against the odds and the others shun him; I was deeply moved by Daniel Norman’s diffident and remorseful portrayal. Then Jesus arrives, a tremendously noble and resonant performance from Roderick Williams, and begins to play out Passover events.
Royal Opera House, LondonSoprano Barbara Hannigan revisits the role created for her in George Benjamin’s tale of sexual jealousy and artistic revelation, interpreted forensically by Katie Mitchell
Major new operas have a habit of revealing their secrets over time. Written on Skin, George Benjamin’s chilling parable about the transformative potential of art, is receiving its first revival at Covent Garden since its UK premiere in 2013. Though Martin Crimp’s text, in which the protagonists narrate their own stories in the third person, can seem mannered after repeated hearings, deepening familiarity with Benjamin’s score increases one’s awareness of its beauty, its violence and the forensic yet immediate way in which it probes psychological extremes.
The double-casting of one role and two substantial changes elsewhere, meanwhile, remind us of the work’s growing attraction for new interpreters. Barbara Hannigan, for whom Agnès was written, was spellbinding on opening night, though Georgia Jarman takes over later in the run. Iestyn Davies, sounding glorious, makes the Boy a more overtly roguish, albeit less otherworldly figure than Bejun Mehta, who created him. Mark Padmore replaces Allan Clayton as the sinister male angel. Victoria Simmonds as his female counterpart, and Christopher Purves as the sexually troubled Protector, remain exceptional in the roles they played four years ago. Benjamin himself conducts.
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