Vaughan Williams was fonder of his Sancta civitas than of any of his other choral works, perhaps – as Malcolm Hayes suggests in a felicitous programme-note – because of its problematic unveiling, and the rarity of its performances.
While some continue to wring their hands over the challenge of attracting a younger, more diverse audience to classical music, others are exploring ways of doing so - and creating exciting concerts for all in the process.
Valery Gergiev loves the flashy gesture, and it was certainly flashy to programme all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos in one evening, with three hot-shot Russian-school pianists doing the solo honours supported by the London Symphony Orchestra. Gergiev’s protégé Daniil Trifonov played the first concerto with the airy brilliance we now expect from him, and Gergiev, on the podium, let his interpretation of this youthful, ardent, nose-thumbing work flower as it needed to.
Composed in 2001, Qigang Chen’s Iris devoilee has now made it to the Proms, and it still comes over with marvellous freshness. Chen’s back-story is typical of his generation: born into a cultured family in 1951, he saw his parents sent to a labour camp in the Cultural Revolution, and he himself underwent ‘re-education’; he was one of the first students admitted when the Beijing Conservatory was reopened; then he went West, studied under Messiaen, and settled in France.
The benefits of a musical education on the development of all young people, the warning cries about cuts in music education in the state sector and the need for government to reverse their refusal to make arts education part of the national curriculum have been shouted from the rooftops. While we need to keep up the pressure on the Government, the National Youth Orchestra accepts that arts organisations have a role to play and we've decided to act.
The concert premiere of five scenes from Zaid Jabri’s new opera, Cities of Salt, was an event of great potential significance. As the first opera by a Syrian composer, with a Syrian soprano – Talar Dekrmanjian – in the leading role, and based on a story filled with echoes of recent Middle Eastern history, it covered bases nobody had thought of covering before.
Director Barrie Kosky may not have worked much in Britain, but he does have form: for his ENO debut he turned Rameau’s exquisitely refined Castor et Pollux into a cross between a fight-club spectacular and a voyeuristic soft-porn romp. For his Glyndebourne debut he has chosen Saul, one of the magnificent oratorios which Handel wrote in the years preceding the Messiah.
As evidenced by the world premiere of his new percussion concerto, the septuagenarian maverick HK Gruber shows no signs of slowing down, or sobering up. His first percussion concerto had been, as he himself put it, ‘percussive noise-making in all its extrovert forms’; his new one, entitled Into the open…, is ‘a symphonic piece concentrating on percussion with distinct pitches’. And with Colin Currie as soloist, that was abundantly clear from the start.
In 1977, Nasa's two Voyager space probes began an endless mission across the Milky Way that has already sent Voyager One beyond the borders of our solar system and out into the interstellar void. Before they launched, the astronomer Carl Sagan invited proposals for the content of the "golden records" aboard each craft, designed to inform curious aliens about life on Earth. Biologist Lewis Thomas suggested the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach, but then had second thoughts: "That would just be boasting."
Shows at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre can be either glimpses of heaven, or hell on earth, and the in the past couple of years we've had examples of both. Turkeys like Ben Frost's mind-numbing demolition of The Wasp Factory and Luca Francesconi's unspeakable Quartett have been offset by Georg Friedrich Haas's miniature masterpiece Atthis, and by the brilliant chamber opera which Philip Glass created out of Kafka's The Trial. This little underground theatre is a test-bed for shows which are either still in development or too commercially risky for the main house upstairs.
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