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Ahead of BBC Concert Orchestra’s Olivier celebration directed by and starring Maria Friedman, the singer picks her favourite shows to have featured in the prestigious awards

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Olivier theatre awards, and tonight the BBC Concert Orchestra celebrates four decades of musical theatre in a one-off concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Stars including Michael Ball, Elaine Paige and Clive Rowe will be joining Maria Friedman to perform a selection of songs from some of the most celebrated musicals to have won – or been nominated for – the prestigious awards. The show’s director, and holder of a record six nominations in the Best Actress in a Musical category, Maria Friedman has picked her 10 favourite Olivier winners, and tells us why they are special to her.

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16 days ago | |
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Colston Hall, Bristol
On a tour that revisits Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the violinist is still a mass of contradictions, but his skill is intact and the sound compelling

If public perception is that he is defined by his relationship with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, then, reasons violinist Nigel Kennedy, the best way to show how he’s moved on is through that same work. This is the rationale for The New Four Seasons and Kennedy’s current tour, which opened at Bristol’s Colston Hall.

Kennedy’s 1989 recording of Vivaldi’s work with the English Chamber Orchestra has sold over 3m copies and is one of the bestselling classical records of all time. Today, Kennedy, spiky-haired and clad in trainers with a dayglo spats effect, looks little different. Aston Villa had drawn the day before so he’s not overly hyped up, but he’s still a mass of contradictions. When not playing, his movements are puppeteer-jerky, and the banter is relentlessly matey, with so much fist bumping that one fears for all the string players’ knuckles. And yet when bow meets fiddle – Cremona, nothing electric here – he becomes real again, virtuosity intact, the sound compelling, the effect totally disarming.

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Wigmore Hall, London
Musicians including Gautier Capuçon and Lisa Batiashvili celebrated the French composer with three of his works plus those of his predecessors

The French composer Henri Dutilleux died in 2013, aged 97, not so far short of the centenary being celebrated this year. This Wigmore programme featured three of his works, either for solo instrument or string quartet, setting them in the context of two of his major French predecessors.

Cellist Gautier Capuçon began with an eloquent account of the Three Strophes on the Name Sacher, commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich in 1976 to celebrate the achievements of that musical super-patron, Paul Sacher, by translating his surname into musical notation.

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Royal Festival Hall, London
An all-Verdi programme showed the Maltese tenor on excellent form, but he could have done with more light and shade

The Maltese star tenor Joseph Calleja celebrated his 38th birthday with this all-Verdi concert, accompanied by the Philharmonia under the Spanish conductor Ramón Tebar. The focus on one single composer gave the event a more solid identity than mixed-aria programmes usually possess, even if the result inevitably felt somewhat bitty.

At 38, Calleja has achieved a great deal, and his fans were out in force to celebrate with him. One of the world’s leading lyric tenors, he continues to plan his career wisely, moving steadily up into the heavier vocal assignments represented here by Gustavo’s valedictory last-act aria from Un Ballo in Maschera and Gabriele Adorno’s furious denunciation of the Doge in Simon Boccanegra. Both are now in his active stage repertoire, though Calleja’s second-half selections – extracts from Il Trovatore, I Lombardi, Luisa Miller and Aida – are still to come in his career. By and large, he seems ready for any of them, while maintaining that the uniquely challenging Otello is still at least 10 years off.

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Breakfast with the Bachs, rehearsals with Boulez; applauding is fine, but karaoke most definitely not. The Swedish trumpet virtuoso on his musical loves on and off the platform

How do you listen to music most often?

Mostly vinyl records.

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Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney festival
Australian composers Simon James Phillips and Austin Buckett show there’s still more to the pipe organ than fugues and The Phantom

The pipe organ doesn’t easily translate to contemporary music without bringing along some cumbersome cultural baggage. Whether you’re a composer or a listener, it’s tough to divorce the instrument from associations of camp melodrama or classical cliché. Even the French composer Olivier Messiaen’s psychedelic hymns impart a kind of obtuse fustiness to the organ that’s difficult to unhear.

This hasn’t stopped young Australian composers from experimenting with new ways of deploying those towering pipes. The Ireland-based Australian Robert Curgenven has paired expansive organ work with found sound on recent albums to create evocative music that explores themes of displacement, colonialism and ancestral geography. Similarly, John Chantler alloyed the instrument’s imposing presence and ruminative qualities with his signature modular electronics to produce the strikingly beautiful Still Light, Outside in 2014.

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St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Thomas Søndergård led the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a captivating celebration of composer Henri Dutilleux on his centenary

This concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on 22 January celebrated, to the very day, the centenary of Henri Dutilleux, who died in 2013 at the age of 97. It was all the more touching for the memory of the composer standing, at 92, on the St David’s Hall stage, speaking eloquently and at length.

The eloquence and characteristic finesse of the Dutilleux pieces were communicated well here, and his fastidious concern for timbre and a sound-world of ordered perfection never unduly challenged the listener. In Métaboles, conductor Thomas Søndergård allowed the orchestra to luxuriate in every note without undermining the music’s growing organic momentum, and tension ratcheted up in the final Flamboyant.

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17 days ago | |
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City Halls, Glasgow
The charismatic banjo master flirted, duelled and traded melodies with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a playful, fairground ride of a show

What’s the best way to tune a banjo? With a wire cutter. The much-derided banjo, despite its African roots and history in slavery, remains the butt of a thousand bad jokes among musicians.

You wonder what they’d make of the charismatic Béla Fleck – widely considered the instrument’s greatest exponent – showcasing his dazzling array of licks over a huge swath of gushing strings and an urgent barrage of woodwind. One of the most intriguing of the genre fusions for which Celtic Connections festival is rightly lauded, Fleck’s Concerto for Banjo – pointedly titled The Imposer is a compelling curio. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra rise boldly to the challenge of making the UK’s coming out party for the banjo a memorably grand and at times startling occasion.

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Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Novelist Louise Welsh and composer Stuart MacRae’s adaptation of a Faustian story by Robert Louis Stevenson is as economical as it is engaging

Composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh’s third and so far largest operatic collaboration – a co-production by Scottish Opera and and Music Theatre Wales – is an adaptation of a sinister tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. The original story, entitled The Bottle Imp, is set in Hawaii during the 19th century, although Welsh has moved the action to the here and now. The scenario contains obvious resonances of the Faust legend. Given how successful that has been as an operatic source, it is surprising that no one has apparently thought of setting Stevenson’s version to music before.

On their travels, two scruffy young backpackers come across a mansion. Its elderly occupant explains how he has acquired his extraordinary wealth: from a bottle containing an imp that grants every wish. Now he wishes to dispose of it.

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Quartetto di Cremona, Lawrence Dutton (viola)
(Audite)

Recording the Beethoven strings quartets is a rite of passage for any quartet. The Italian Quartetto di Cremona, still young but together a good decade, has reached that point. They play with fervour and flair. If at times in the monumental Op 132 in A minor you long for a degree more weight, more digging into the soil than skittering in the air, the reason to choose this disc is for the other work: the rarely heard String Quintet in C Op 29, with a second viola, Lawrence Dutton, as fifth player. The group’s Italianate grace comes into its own in this radiant music, with its lyrical opening, heartfelt Adagio, blithe Scherzo and fly-away Presto.

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