The rate at which a George Benjamin opera gestates is glacially slow, and his long-awaited Written on Skin, triumphantly premiered at Aix last summer, has now reached London. And though a 100-minute, interval-free symbolic drama set to post-tonal music might sound rebarbative, it actually makes a riveting evening.
Classical music has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks. There have been allegations of historic child abuse at Britain's specialist music schools, charges of sexual misconduct levelled against conservatoire teachers and related claims of cover-ups and collusion. Dark clouds have also shaded reports of cash-strapped opera companies and orchestras battling extinction. While the noise of old ways collapsing threatens to drown out the music, it cannot silence the power of great performances. Alisa Weilerstein did her bit to uplift classical fans last month with the release of a remarkable, once-in-a-blue-moon album.
The music of Steve Reich, at its greatest, describes a kind of ecstasy. From the astral glow of Music for 18 Musicians and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ to the heat-haze of Drumming and Six Marimbas, the darting flames of love and grief in Daniel Variations and Tehillim, the complex inflexions of Different Trains and The Cave, the Shaker simplicity of Clapping Music and the dazzling purity of Cello Counterpoint and Piano Phase, the 76-year-old composer creates something vast and extraordinary from minute changes of rhythm and timbre, Beethovenian in its effect, though not in its vernacular. The soundworld may be Reich's alone but it's a formula to which any three-chord, three-minute songwriter might aspire: to alter the listener, to sharpen, open, provoke and enhance.
What are we talking about? The world premiere of a new film-opera, a multimedia "occult mystery". Sunken Garden is one of opera's first uses of 3D film and also marks a new collaboration between the Barbican and English National Opera.
Last April, in his first concert as St Martin's conductor and concertmaster, violinist Joshua Bell's direction of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony seemed awkward and effortful.
Glyndebourne’s education department has always been the brand-leader in community opera, and this time composer Orlando Gough, librettist Stephen Plaice, and director Susannah Waters have hit on an unusually topical idea.
Those who don’t like Andras Schiff’s Beethoven say he plays like a tyrant: for those who do, his way with the great sonata-cycle has something approaching the authority of an oracle. But even oracles can get things wrong, and so did Schiff’s account of the Rondo of Opus 31 No 1: Beethoven may have written in some quirkiness, but not to the mannered degree we got it here. Sometimes Schiff gets carried away by his own doctrinaire convictions.
Embarking on its spring tour with a new production of Cosi fan tutte, ETO offers its audiences a typically provocative essay by the late Edward Said, as a way of intellectually limbering up.
Benjamin Britten’s take on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is coruscatingly original, yet its only airing scheduled for this centenary year – courtesy of young singers from the European Opera Centre - has briefly come and gone in Liverpool. And if it wasn’t an unalloyed success, Bernard Rozet’s production did at least make a valiant attempt to engage with the multiple challenges which this remake of a remake presents.
"I grew up in the Forties with the hit parade, broadway shows and even Rhapsody in Blue. I took piano lessons like most middle-class kids but I never played or heard anything before Haydn or after Wagner. It wasn't until I was 14, in 1950, that music became the centre of my life. I heard The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky and discovered an absolutely new world. Right after that, I heard the Fifth Brandenburg by J S Bach and then bebop with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and drummer Kenny Clarke. A good friend was a better pianist than I and he was studying jazz. We decided to start a band and we had to have a drummer – I said, "That's me", and I immediately began studying snare drum with Roland Kohloff – who later became tympanist with the New York Philharmonic.
"These days having a mobile presence is a must, and InstantEncore delivers powerful apps that are incredibly easy to manage."