It seems extraordinary to modern audiences that Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera, The Golden Cockerel, so offended Nicholas II's censors that it was never performed in the composer's lifetime. But Rimsky, writing in the immediate aftermath of the 1905 revolution, knew what he was doing by breathing allegorical life into Pushkin's much-loved fairytale about a muddle-headed tsar whose attempt to evade the consequences of his youthful warmongering leads to his losing his heart to an oriental queen, his life to a magic rooster, and his kingdom to his people. The opera, but not the poem, ends with an epilogue by the Astrologer-cum-narrator consoling Tsar Dodon's bereft subjects with advice about the benefits of life without a Tsar.
No trace of politics is to be found, however, in this picture-book production by the Natalia Sats Moscow State Music theatre, on their third visit to the Coliseum with a Diaghilev mini-festival. For it was the great impresario who first staged the work, as part of the 1914 Ballets Russes, with sets by Natalya Goncharova and choreography by Michel Fokine. Marking the work's centenary, the Natalia Sats company have sought faithfully to reproduce the original, Vyacheslav Okunev copying Goncharova's traditional "broadside" sets and costumes and Gali Abaidulov reworking what remains of Fokine's choreography. Crucially, too, the director, Georgy Isaakyan, has followed Diaghilev's idea to have the action staged almost entirely as a ballet, with chorus dressed as gnomes in white, gold-buttoned frocks with red hats and boots, and soloists, in evening dress, ranged at the sides.
With a baritone protagonist who speaks more than he sings and an actor who mimes more than she speaks, Tokaido Road, Nicola LeFanu's new stage work, is much closer to music theatre than to opera. Inspired by Hiroshige's print series The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, which is based upon a journey the artist took in 1832 from Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto, Tokaido Road has a text by Nancy Gaffield, based upon her own collection of poems.
Tokaido Road was conceived expressly for Okeanos, an ensemble that combines western and Japanese instruments, and the hour-long result does sometimes feel more like an awkward hybrid, contrived for such a lineup, than a piece that has evolved inevitably from the dramatic potential of its source. The central character is Hiroshige himself, both in old age as narrator, remembering his epic journey 25 years earlier, and as the young man Hiro living the experiences of that trip; the two are represented by both the baritone (Jeremy Huw Williams) and the actor/mime (Tomoko Kamura). A soprano (Rafaela Papadakis) and a mezzo (Caryl Hughes) are the women that Hiro encounters en route, Kikuyo and Mariko.
My father, Brian Priestman, who has died aged 87, was a conductor with a worldwide reputation. Having started his career in Britain, he went on to work with orchestras across the US, and had a highly successful tenure with the Denver Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s. He was also a brilliant teacher who inspired generations of musicians through his work in youth orchestras and universities in Canada, South Africa and the US.
Brian was born in Bournville, Birmingham, to Margaret, who worked as a physiotherapist, and Miles, the registrar of stock holdings for Cadbury Brothers. He attended Sidcot school in Somerset, followed by the University of Birmingham, and completed his education at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles, where he studied music and discovered conducting. In 1946, he briefly interrupted his education to serve with the Friends' Ambulance Unit, working with war-wounded children in France, and developed a lifelong love of the country.
It isn't every composer whose music could withstand six hours of concerts in one day. What is it about Schubert that makes us want to linger so long? Over the centuries, the Schubertiad tradition has morphed from the sort of boozy, freewheeling ceilidhs that he himself hosted into polite all-day marathons like this one, staged by the East Neuk festival to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The programme here sighed under towering late works preoccupied with mortality, and what emerged through the afternoon was a tender, largely solemn, at times very painful portrait of this most human of composers. Had Schubert himself been throwing the party, I wonder whether he would have insisted on a bit of light relief.
Inevitably, there were daft and maddening moments among the profundity. Even a viola player as fine as Krzysztof Chorlzelski couldn't smooth over the most skittish passages in the Arpeggione Sonata, and I longed for a more simple Du bist die Ruh from soprano Malin Christensson; her voice had beautifully dark hues and her way with text was admirably ardent, but in Crail's plain kirk there was no need to inflate. Llyr Williams sculpted the four Impromptus D899 into clean, handsome lines, but where was the playfulness of the E flat and A flat numbers? On a pragmatic note, scheduling the hefty Trio in B Flat D898 just before dinner didn't earn the audience focus deserved by this intense, fervid performance from Corina Belcea, Antoine Lederlin and Christian Zacharias.
Bruckner's symphonies are often described as "cathedrals of sound", not merely because of their grandeur and scale but because of their quasi-architectural construction from blocks of musical material. But what happens when the construction of one of Bruckner's "cathedrals" takes place inside an actual cathedral? To judge from this concert, with the London Symphony Orchestra on one of their annual visits to play under the dome of St Paul's as part of the City of London festival, the results were unpredictable, intriguing and often moving, though with the building's 13-second reverberation time the listener often had less of a sense of listening to a live performance of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony than drifting through hazy memories of one.
The concert opened with Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which sounded like a good idea on paper but came across as flat and dull. This was not, I hasten to add, a result of the playing but of the way the acoustics sapped the alternately biting and shimmering textures. Perhaps it should simply have been performed louder.
The St Magnus festival celebrated Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' 80th at a special concert involving the local community and Max's compositions for children
There was something hugely touching about the birthday party the St Magnus Festival threw for Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Max as he's universally known in Orkney and throughout the musical world turns 80 this September, and the occasion will be marked by special concerts in Glasgow, at the Proms and elsewhere. But up in Orkney, at the festival he helped set up on the islands he has called home since the 1970s, the official celebrations didn't involve any high-profile artists or high-budget commissions. In a packed auditorium at Kirkwall Grammar School, it was local young musicians who gathered to perform a collection of the composer's works for children.
Max has been writing educational music for more than half a century. Even during his most caustic early period, alongside such screamingly radical works as Eight Songs for a Mad King and St Thomas Wake, he was penning these semi-sweet, sort-of singsong tunes for local primary schools. I say "sort-of" singsong, because with Max there is always a twist. What first sounds like a simple nursery rhyme turns out to be laced with weirdly roaming intervals; what starts out a steady 4/4 ostinato soon begins to hiccup with tricksy cross-rhythms.
Knussen's third symphony is only 15 minutes in length but it covers a massive musical and emotional spectrum
Fantastic, and fantastical abstraction. In a sense, thats a pretty good definition of what this whole symphony idea is all about, but its especially apposite for this weeks work, Oliver Knussens Third Symphony. The piece was completed in 1979 after six years of working, thinking, revising, and refining. Knussen hasnt added to his symphonic canon these last 35 years, but the principles that this piece embodies - its way of thinking and feeling made into sound, its connections, compressions, and concentrations of musical discourse and music-historical references are still signature phenomena of Knussens music today just as they were then.
To put the achievement of the Third Symphony in context: at the age of 27, when Knussen completed a version of the piece with which he was satisfied, he was already a vastly experienced composer. In fact, even among history's (in)famous musical prodigies, Knussens precocity is outstanding. His First Symphony, written when he was 15, was already a virtuosic essay in serialist aesthetics; his Concerto for Orchestra (now renamed the Symphony in One Movement) and Second Symphony, a song-cycle for solo mezzo-soprano all completed before he was 20 demonstrate a preternatural musical digestion. Barely out of his teens, Knussen had already come to terms with the legacy of the musical avant-garde, he had confronted and confounded the behemoth of symphonic tradition, and found his own expressive and poetic language in an unerringly dazzling deployment of large orchestral forces, and fused it together in music of astonishing richness and communicative power.
Parody was the term 18th-century composers used for the recycling of earlier material, and as a composer heavily influenced by the baroque it's no surprise that Michael Nyman should be an accomplished parodist. Commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Liverpool Cathedral to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, Nyman's 11th symphony was a premiere of sorts, though a significant proportion of its 50-minute duration was the product of rigorous repurposing.
The first movement, The Singing of the Names, was originally performed in Liverpool to mark the city's hosting of Euro 96. It took approximately 15 minutes for Merseyside-born mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge to intone a litany of the 96 victims in a steadily rising tessitura, and, although it is a sublimely moving conception, one only wishes it could have been shorter. The second section was a seraphic meditation reminiscent of a kyrie, angelically sung by the Philharmonic's Youth and Training Choirs. The third movement, based on subdivisions of the number 96, featured a bass line that evolved from a lugubrious cantus firmus to a swinging boogie, possibly to acknowledge Liverpool's rock'n'roll heritage.
Sydney Opera House, SydneyOpera Australia leave behind offstage drama of disgraced Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri for brilliant onstage performances
In an attempt to entice composer Giuseppe Verdi out of premature retirement in the late 1800s, Italian librettist Arrigo Boito wrote his own version of Shakespeares Othello. It stripped the narrative so that the action centred predominantly on its four main characters. As a result, Verdis penultimate opera, Otello, is not only one of Verdis most character-driven works, it is also one of his most focused and beloved.
Otello was first directed by German director Harry Kupfer for Opera Australia in 2003, who updated the work from 15th century Cyprus to wartime Germany. In this remount the set, by original designer Hans Schavernoch, retains its visually arresting grand staircase with its tilted, crumbling edge, and swastikaesque red cross. Similarly, the costumes preserve their symbolic allure, the sumptuous black and white evening attire of the chorus contrasting with the jewelled tones of Desdemonas emerald and purple evening gowns.
It seems a fairly safe bet that Radiohead should be into Steve Reich. That Reich is equally into Radiohead became apparent in 2012, when the London Sinfonietta gave the premiere of Radio Rewrite, a piece based on two of the band's songs. And for this all-Reich programme, the band's guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, performed a solo work, Electric Counterpoint, originally written in 1987 for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. The piece requires the guitarist to prepare 12 overdubbed tracks and play along to the pre-recorded material. Reich first came across Greenwood performing his version of the work at a festival in Krakow.
On this occasion, however, the start was delayed as Greenwood's on-stage laptop refused to function. It created the slightly ironic spectacle of a member of Radiohead not OK with a computer, though, when it did get going, Greenwood's crystalline, cascading effects were worth waiting for.
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