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Classical music | The Guardian
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The Roundhouse, London
Ligeti’s influential Ramifications rounded off a beautifully executed programme of works that followed in his pioneering wake

The London Sinfonietta’s concert under Andrew Gourlay marked the Proms’ return to the Roundhouse, the festival’s regular venue for new music in the late 60s and 70s, though used infrequently since. It took place inside Ron Arad’s Curtain Call, an enveloping circular installation of silicone rods, on to which video images were streamed, sometimes beautiful, sometimes hallucinatory. It was mesmerising, and a bit trippy.

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Royal Albert Hall, London
The soprano’s performance coupled with Jirí Belohlávek’s beautifully judged conducting confirmed them as well nigh ideal interpreters of Janácek

Earlier this year, Karita Mattila and Jirí Belohlávek gave a concert performance of Janácek’s Jenufa at the Royal Festival Hall, London, which lingers in the mind as one of the great operatic achievements. This year’s Proms sees them back together for The Makropulos Affair – in a semi-staging by Kenneth Richardson, this time – and once again they prove to be well nigh ideal interpreters of the composer’s work.

Related: Soprano Karita Mattila: 'It's never too late for a debut'

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Vox Luminis/Meunier
(Ricercar)

The excellent vocal ensemble Vox Luminis goes from strength to strength with its deftly inflected, pure, rather un-English singing. This pair of requiems lies distantly behind Mozart’s unfinished classic, since both composers held posts at St Stephen’s, Vienna. Johann Caspar Kerll’s 1669 mass, accompanied by only four viols and organ, is sombre compared with his big multi-choir masses, though the singers enliven it with tremulous quavering at Quantus tremor est futurus. Johann Joseph Fux’s more expressive writing is from a generation later; written for the funeral of a Holy Roman Emperor’s widow, its counterpoint uses a larger instrumental group, including a pre-Mozart trombone solo in the Tuba mirum: coincidence?

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Cameron Carpenter (organ)
(Sony)

This CD promises to display “the unique capabilities of Cameron Carpenter’s international touring organ”. The popular, spiky-haired American virtuoso has addressed the challenge of being a soloist unable to travel with his instrument. This digital organ, designed to his specifications, can fit into a truck and be assembled in a couple of hours. An idiosyncratic player, Cameron includes here his own arrangements of Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue, a French Suite and Invention No 8 in F major (as well as some tracks Bach prepared earlier). Organ aficionados may wince, but to non-specialist ears the instrument sounds lively and flexible, from delicate to all-out beefy, much like its communicative player.

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Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gourlay, Elias String Quartet etc
(NMC)

Emily Howard (b1979) came to attention with the title work in this NMC debut disc, Magnetite, a sumptuous, powerful piece written for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra when the ensemble’s home city – also Howard’s – was European capital of culture in 2008. Her interests, embracing mathematics, physics and poetry, inform each work, whether specifically (Solar) or more obliquely (Leviathan). Afference (2014), for string quartet and in two parts, takes ideas of sensory perception as a starting point. The results are delicate, detailed and rigorous. This is an engaging introduction to Howard’s music, expertly played. The RLPO premiere a new work of hers at the Proms on 25 August.

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Royal Albert Hall; Cadogan Hall, London
Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich worked their magic once more as the Proms took a walk on the wild side

Urged on by the cheering of 6,000 people – mercifully no flag waving; that’s yet to come – music won but theatre came a breathless and flamboyant second at Wednesday’s Prom 43, which had its own dual lap of honour by two of the most gilded musicians alive, Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich. Now in their 70s, friends since early childhood as musical prodigies in Buenos Aires, he is still the pugnacious, illustrious, classroom leader, she the shy, unknowable, reluctant superstar.

Argerich had cancelled as soloist in the same concert in Salzburg only last week. Luckily Barenboim, conducting, was able to fill the vacant piano stool. Would the Proms, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – formed in 1999 to unite musicians from across the Arab-Israeli divide, and popular Proms regulars – be luckier? They – we – were. After the orchestra had played Jörg Widmann’s Con brio, a witty, allusive concert overture, Argerich walked on stage, a little hesitant. Barenboim left her to take the applause alone, watching from the side. She looked almost desperate, beckoning as if to say “don’t you dare leave me here”. In his own good time, he took his place on the podium.

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Classical musicians aren’t in it for the money; aimless practice does more harm than good; it takes a genius to recognise one … Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians is key, writes Steven Isserlis

I grew up loving Schumann the man as well as Schumann the composer. I still remember where I was when I first came across a volume of his letters (No 42 Ladbroke Grove, in west London, to be precise). The beauty of his character shone through every word he wrote. Later, I came across his Advice for Young Musicians, written as a companion to his famous piano pieces for children, Album for the Young. I loved the Advice, too; but it seemed dated. Coming back to it more recently, however, I realised that only the language is old-fashioned; the advice itself is as valuable as ever – it just needs some interpretation for today’s musicians and music lovers:

Related: Facing the music: Steven Isserlis

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Musical instruments come and go, but 70 years after it was first designed the electric guitar looks like a survivor. So why does its combination of wires, valves and transistors strike a chord?

Music, like politics, is the art of the possible. Because we are human beings we tend to think of music as being a history of musicians, of the people making music, but really it is a history of machines, of musical instruments, of the technology that channels people’s imaginations. Music is also an evolutionary art, an art of survival; commit your music to an instrument that does not thrive – the baryton, the ophicleide, the trautonium – and it will never be more than a curiosity, a mute fossil in the museum of instrumental experiments. Seventy years after the evolutionary twist that brought it into existence, the electric guitar looks like a survivor. There have been some doubtful moments, periods of change in the musical climate when electric guitars seemed outmoded, but the instrument has weathered them all so far. Cheap electric guitars are affordable, expensive ones are collectable, and, as page two of the first issue of punk fanzine Sideburns proclaimed in 1977: “This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. NOW FORM A BAND.”

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London Sinfonietta | São Paulo Orchestra | Così Fan Tutte | Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla | Shakespeare Scenes

The Roundhouse has always been a fine venue for new music. The Proms return there for the first time in more than 30 years for an afternoon programme that includes music by Sinfonietta regulars such as Birtwistle, Haas and Ligeti, alongside new works by Mica Levi and David Sawer.

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19 August 1840: Will has been sent to England for the purpose of being sold to help the widow and family of Beethoven’s brother

When Beethoven died, in 1827, a will was found among his papers, made by him during a dangerous illness in the year 1802, and addressed to his brother Carl, and his nephew Ludwig Beethoven. His brother died before him; and this will, which remained in the possession of his brother’s widow, has now been sent to England for the purpose of being sold to relieve the urgent necessities of herself and her family. It is in the hands of Messrs. Cramer and Co. of Regent-street.

It was during Liszt’s recent visit to London that the will was sent to him by the widow of Beethoven’s brother, accompanied by a letter from that lady, describing in most affecting language the melancholy circumstances of herself and her daughter. “Had I not borne the name of Beethoven,” she writes, “I should never have dared to trouble you with my request; though your character for generosity is acknowledged all over Europe, so much genius and talent having seldom been combined with such benevolence. My present unhappy condition is the cause of my troubling you with this letter, as I am in danger of being completely destitute if your assistance does not soon arrive, my creditors having consented to wait no longer than is requisite for me to receive an answer to this letter.”

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