My monthly Jazz in the Round event made a special appearance as part of the final weekend of the London Jazz Festival, on a special stage built in the foyer of London’s Royal Festival Hall.
A stunning line-up of four acts played to a packed audience of aficionados and passers-by who couldn’t believe their luck at bagging a free ringside seat for such great music, much of which you can hear on this week’s Jazz On 3.
We start with the invention of a whole new genre! ‘Acid-trad’ from British quartet Pigfoot led by trumpeter Chris Batchelor. The ‘trad’ bit means re-interpretations of the likes of Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller; the ‘acid’ a nod to the band’s at times irreverent, wonky approach. Actually, the tunes are very clearly laid out, but when Oren Marshall’s tuba is let off the leash, or Paul Clarvis’s kit explodes into life, things get a little more anarchic. There are quieter moments – check out Liam Noble’s beautiful pizzicato piano intro to Basin St. Blues – but mainly this gets the party off to a jaunty start.
Next up, the vocalist from the best band of another acid-related trend: Carleen Anderson sang with The Young Disciples in the early 90s and performed a rare solo set for us at the piano. She has an extraordinary voice – soulful, free-ranging and not to be missed.
I was thrilled that one of British jazz’s most treasured musicians – trumpeter Kenny Wheeler – was able to join us for a set with his quintet. Unsurprisingly, the band was filled with top-draw players – John Taylor on piano, Stan Sulzmann on saxophone, bassist Chris Laurence, and one from the younger generation, drummer Jim Hart. Seeing Kenny being helped onto stage (he’s 83 now) was very moving, all the more so when that classic fragile, lyrical flugel sound shone through.
Such was the quality of the bands throughout the afternoon, that we only have time in the programme for a short track from the other set, by one of my favourite American bands of the last few years – John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet. But if you like what you hear, listen out for the full set on Jazz on 3 in January.
Join me from 11pm on Monday 9 December or listen online for seven days after broadcast. Jez
If you have comments about the show, or requests for music you’d like to hear, do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter '@BBCJazzon3'.
Around 20 minutes into tonight’s featured concert a shout of “play some piano” came from the audience. Strange, you might think, given Brad Mehldau’s name is synonymous with the instrument. But the heckler can’t have read the billing; this was a Mehliana gig. Mehldau is best known as one of the most influential pianists of the past 20 years, responsible for opening a generation’s ears to new possibilities in the art of the piano trio. But this new project takes him in a new direction, armed with a battery of retro synths and the precision beat-machine otherwise know as Mark Guiliana at the drum kit. Together under the Mehliana amalgam, their recent performance at the London Jazz Festival caused one of the biggest stirs of the season – and you can hear just why on this week's Jazz on 3. Cascading Fender Rhodes lines hovered over space-age synth washes and the squelchy bass lines of the Moog 'Little Phatty', while Mark Guiliana’s powerhouse rhythms drove the set with face-scrunching force. The drummer's penchant for electronic music and sampled sounds has significantly influenced his technique – his grooves are complex and impressively tight. Some fans of Mehldau's more dainty piano work were left bewildered with the rumbling sounds at London's Barbican Hall, for me it was a gig that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout – and I'd love to hear if you agree.
Also in the programme this week, we've an exciting exclusive from UK-based trio Phronesis. During the London Jazz Festival they performed at my event Jazz in the Round and recorded the gig for their second live album, to be released next April. They've given us a sneak peak of the record and at the start of the show we'll be playing 'Behind Bars', a new track composed by bassist and bandleader Jasper Høiby.
Join me on Monday 2 December at 11pm, or listen online for seven days after the broadcast.
If you have comments about the show, or requests for music you’d like to hear, do get in touch at email@example.com or on Twitter @BBCJazzon3
Maida Vale Studios recently witnessed one of the biggest Family Orchestra and Chorus workshops we’ve ever had, with around 170 family members turning MV1 into a carnival of grooves, tunes, rhythms and singing! Under the leadership of Lincoln Abbotts (our former learning manager , now in a similar role at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) who jumped, danced and enthused his way through the day, we created a suite of brand new pieces, all based on the repertoire of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers in the 2013/14 season. This was a particularly special occasion as, for the first time, the full forces of the BBC Singers joined and led the chorus. Add to the mix ten members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and we had crack team of inspirational professionals helping the families brew up some amazing sounds.
What I particularly love about the Family Orchestra and Chorus is that it truly is an ensemble that anyone aged 7 and above can take part in, regardless of their musical background. This meant that initially reluctant first time singers, enthusiastic beginner flautists, aspirational percussionist mums and experienced viola players all joined in to play together. It’s also such a lovely chance for groups of families and friends (old and new) to play together - everyone had the opportunity to play or sing, and be part of something that sounded great. We were also delighted to be joined by a group from Dulwich Gingerbread, as well as lots of family groups and individuals, both experienced hands at the Family Orchestra, and a lot of new people trying it for the first time!
The Singers kicked off the day with a spellbinding performance of James McMillan’s Gallant Weaver, a gorgeous a capella folk-inspired song which really set the tone for the day of the standard of musicality we were going to reach. The BBC SO players answered this by introducing the orchestra to one of the grooves we would all learn by the end of the day, which got feet a-tapping and Lincoln dancing (not for the last time that day!). And then, standing in the footsteps of all the great orchestras, musicians and ensembles that have ever played and recorded in the famous Maida Vale One studio, it was the chance of the Family Orchestra to follow suit… And, boy, did they measure up! Right from the outset, the rich and confident sound of that first chord of 170 people playing and singing all together, made me and the rest of the learning team grin with anticipation of what we’d be recording at the end of the day.
The day was a mixture of tutti rehearsals with everyone together, and sectional rehearsals. During the sectionals, each group devised and rehearsed their own short piece, based on the orchestra’s repertoire for the season. Over the course of the rehearsals, I heard musical references to Shostakovich, Dukas, and Thea Musgrave. Of course, including a much needed break for lunch, tea and mountains of Maida Vale macaroni cheese, the day whizzed by, and before we knew it, 4pm was upon us! This meant only one thing: time for Broadcast Assistant Peter Jones to turn on the red light, and record the pieces. This was the first time everyone got to hear the sectional pieces the other groups had devised, and there were a lot of impressed and astonished faces.
And then, after everyone joined together in playing a final stonking groove, the end of the day was sadly upon us. After such a fun day, we very much hope to see all the participants soon, either at a BBC SO concert or another workshop, and we’re always looking for new participants to join us, so to find out more about BBCSO Learning events, and what’s happening next, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to everyone who took part for all their hard work and enthusiasm. As you can hear in this sound collage of the day, it certainly paid off!
Welcome to the Essential Classics Blog, where you can find out what’s coming up in the week ahead. We’ve got two very special Marias to delight your ear buds this week: a daily tribute to the incomparable Maria Callas; and our Artist of the Week is the Portuguese pianist, Maria João Pires.
Callas: 90th Anniversary
Maria Callas, 1958
Love her or loathe her, there can be no question that Maria Callas made one of the most dramatic impacts in the history of opera. While the voice itself continues to be a controversial topic even to this day (not least among Radio 3 staff), we couldn’t let the 90th anniversary of her birth go unmentioned, and so every day this week we’re featuring Callas in an aria she was especially associated with. Tune in at 11am to hear arias by Donizetti, Puccini, Bellini, Catalani and Giordano. Watch her in one of her signature roles: Tosca.
Artist of the Week
Maria Joao Pires
Our Artist of the Week this week is Maria João Pires, a pianist known for her delicate touch and expressive interpretations. Her account of Chopin’s Nocturnes is one of the most celebrated on disc, and as well as dipping into her solo recordings, we’ll also hear Pires collaborating with others, including Grieg’s Violin Sonata in C minor (where she is joined by Augustin Dumay) and Schumann’s passionate Piano Quintet. And we’ll be rounding off the week with her beautifully lyrical reading of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Andre Previn.
So, lots to look forward to. As always, we’d love to hear your comments, so please feel free to post on the blog, or you can get in touch via email or Twitter:
As the BBC Concert Orchestra prepares to explore the mixed-up, show-off world of the 1980s in a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next Saturday, with Paul Morley and Anne Dudley, founder members of pioneering pop conceptualists Art of Noise, we asked composer Andrew Poppy, whose music will be performed in the concert, for some thoughts and memories of the 1980s.
Who were your musical influences in the 1980s?Philip Glass: the patterns, the process, the attitude and energy.Fela Kuti: the groove, the textures, attitude and energy.
How would you describe your music?A dancing machine rhythm meets romantic dynamics.
What was it like being part of ZTT in the 1980s?It was amazing. As a creative artist you need breaks, opportunities to develop what you do. This requires acts of faith from other people. Trevor Horn, Jill Sinclair and Paul Morley gave me that. The label’s offices were inside the already legendary Basing Street studios which were re-branded as SARM West. The building itself had an amazing life. There were always 2 or 3 albums being made there. Such a great sense that things were happening. Things could be done. ZTT was a family business, an independent label but licensed to Island Records probably the least corporate of the major record companies.
What was the inspiration behind 32 Frames for Orchestra?Apart from Bartok and Debussy and all the pulse and pattern based American music that I had played in the late 70s, the art works of Sol Lewitt and the films of Chantal Akerman were definitely a spark for this piece. I remember the visual art giving me a new perspective on the way this new music could work. But there is no simple answer. When I hear the piece I can hear some of my listening back then: Monk, Mingus.
Almost the Same Shame was originally for piano and electronics, how have you changed it to be performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra?There is also a version for my band The Sustaining Ensemble. The new version for piano and orchestra is very simple. The music is about a kind of humming or vibration. The piano is a percussion machine and the orchestra is a sustaining instrument. It starts off with a piano solo playing continuous patterns; wanting to sustain. In the second half the orchestra develops some of the texture and colour suggested by the piano. It moves from being sustaining to being more animated and rhythmic.
What would your advice be to young composers today?Well everyone has to follow their own way. There isn’t a formula. Times change. But if you really want my thoughts they would be: don’t give up, focus on what you love, do it for itself, not for something else. Write and perform as much as you can but don’t wait to be asked. If someone says ‘no’, find another way to do it! Be open. Work with other people. Explore different ways of being creative. Creativity is the act of play not the demonstration of skill or the laws of a discipline or style. Allen Ginsberg says it better than me: 'Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.'
If you had to try and sum up 80s culture to you, in three words, what would they be?Three words could be Zang Tuub Tuum of course but that would be too obvious. If it’s in three then it’s definitely some kind of dance. But maybe a dance of the past. The modern dance doesn’t divide the beats up, it rides on a continuous pulse. An image could be a wave that’s building but breaking.
What is your 1980s playlist?It’s hard to pin it down to a hit list but here is a Top 13 for 2013 of works or albums that I still value and which were either written or recorded, or both in the 80s:
Kraftwerk - Computer LovePhilip Glass - Glass worksThe Associates - Fourth Drawer DownAlfred Schnittke – Concerto for Piano and StringsSteve Reich - OctetGrace Jones – NightclubbingHolger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak of the NormalMorton Feldman – Coptic LightFela Kuti - Up Side DownGiacinto Scelsi - Quattro Pezzi Per OrchestraSofia Gubaidulina – Stimmen VerstummenPrince - Sign ‘O’ the TimesTalking Heads - Fear of Music
River and reed beds at Snape Maltings
BBC Symphony Orchestra sub-principal viola Phil Hall with the inside track on the orchestra's contribution to the Britten Centenary Weekend.
As part of the BBC's Britten 100 celebrations, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus travelled up to Suffolk to give two concerts in the Maltings Concert Hall, in the tiny village of Snape, four miles from Britten's home at Aldeburgh.
The main concert (on Friday, the actual anniversary), comprised Britten's Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, his Spring Symphony, the Cantata Academica and a new work by musical polymath Ryan Wigglesworth.
The orchestra has been coming to Snape since the 1960s when the Maltings was converted into the wonderful venue it is today. It really is a magical place and though it was cold outside, the autumn sun shone brightly and lit up the surrounding fields, making the River Alde at Snape glitter.
Conducting the Friday night concert was Oliver Knussen, who not only knew Britten personally but has long lived in the area. He imparted a bit of local knowledge when breaking into a misty-eyed reverie during the quiet central passage in the Sea Interludes: ‘It occurred to me while I was walking down by the river near here that it was the noise of the halyards on the sailing boats flapping against the mast that inspired Britten to write those fast quavers...’ Well, sounds plausible enough - with all the boats around, that noise is almost constant.
Ollie painstakingly goes bar-by-bar through Ryan Wigglesworth's new piece – Locke's Theatre –processing through it from left to right. At one point the composer interrupts, asking the violins not to use vibrato – ‘Oh, sorry,’ says Ollie: ‘Forget what I said about that Stokowski sound, he wants brown bread à la Norrington...’ With rueful smiles exchanged and brown bread duly served, Ollie moves on to the choral pieces we'll perform with the BBC Symphony Chorus – the Cantata Academica and the Spring Symphony. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, our mezzo has got laryngitis so we are very grateful to Christine Rice for stepping in at the eleventh hour.’ Rounds of applause are delivered and we also welcome the boy and girl choristers from Norwich Cathedral. They are also singing in the Spring Symphony, a riotous piece which not only contains a part for Cow Horn, but is the only choral piece I know of that contains the word, ‘phlebotomy’. This piece brings the house down and seems a fitting tribute on this special day.
Next morning the orchestra reassembles, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 9.30 for a final rehearsal of the Family Concert; an hour of popular Britten pieces interspersed with new choral pieces by three young composers sung by local school choirs. The concert finishes with probably Britten's most famous piece: the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, known affectionately as ‘YPG’. These days it is rarely narrated, but CBBC presenter Johny Pitts makes an excellent job of a humorous updated version of the text, putting smiles on to the faces of both orchestra and audience. A happy way to end our contribution to this joyful celebration of one of this country's greatest composers.
There’s a road out of Selma, Alabama, that follows the Alabama River as it meanders through a flat landscape of cotton fields to embrace the small community of Gee’s Bend. There’s not much there except for houses and people, but they are responsible for some spectacular art. Going back to the days of slavery, the women of Gee’s Bend have made extraordinary quilts: bold, colourful creations pieced together from old work clothes and anything else to hand. And as they quilt, they sing hymns and spirituals that make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Since they came into the public consciousness, these quilts and songs – but most of all the women themselves – have inspired a great deal of art. There are books, plays, and compositions based on Gee’s Bend, as well as an entire album by drummer/ composer Jaimeo Brown, whose recent UK debut at the London Jazz Festival is this week’s concert.
Listening to him talk about Gee’s Bend to Kevin Le Gendre, it’s clear Jaimeo has taken its music to heart, something you can also hear throughout the Transcendence album. Loops and samples of Gee’s Bend spirituals are woven into freewheeling compositions that build to a mesmerising intensity, Jaimeo’s hip-hop inflected drumming holding together J D Allen’s fluid sax and Chris Sholar’s electric blues guitar. But the collage aesthetic of the quilts also permeates the music, with Jaimeo managing to knit in Hindustani devotional song and an infant singing (Baby Miesh).
And there’s one final element to this week’s patchwork. Thanks to Matt Arnett, who recorded the How We Got Over album with the quilters of Gee’s Bend in 2002, we have an exclusive performance by three Gee’s Bend women – Mary Lee Bendolph, China Pettway and Revil Mosley. Their powerful singing closes the programme.
To hear them, join me on Monday 25 November at 11pm, or listen online for seven days after the broadcast.
If you have comments about the show, or requests for music you’d like to hear, do get in touch at email@example.com or on Twitter @BBCJazzon3
Welcome to the Essential Classics Blog, where you can find out what’s coming up in the week ahead. This week we’ve got one of the very finest chamber ensembles as our Artists of the Week – the Quartetto Italiano – and our guest, amidst the Britten 100 celebrations, is an actor who has played the role of Britten on stage: Alex Jennings.
Artists of the Week
Remarkably, during its impressive 35-year span (1945-1980), three members of the Quartetto Italiano remained the same – only the violist changed (no viola jokes, thank you). The group’s repertoire is mainly concentrated in the Austro-German tradition, though we’ve found a lovely live recording - made at the Royal Festival Hall in 1965 - of Boccherini’s brief ‘La Tiranna Spagnola’. Other delights we’ll be featuring include string quartets by Beethoven (his final quartet, Op. 135), Haydn (Op. 76 No. 3), Schubert (the ‘Rosamunde’), and Ravel.
Our guest this week this week is well known for his portrayals on both stage and screen. In addition to several award-winning performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Alex Jennings has acted as Benjamin Britten in Alan Bennett’s 2009 play, The Habit of Art, which centres on a fictional meeting between Britten and W.H.Auden. Rob will be asking Alex about how he prepared for this and other roles, as well as his musical choices in response to the Essential Classics Questionnaire.
That’s all for this week, but remember if you’d like to get in touch, do feel free to post a comment, or you can get in touch via email or Twitter:
A tricky manoeuvre for the BBC SO truck at Snape Maltings
Well, the microphones and cables have been stowed away, the equipment loaded, the last truck has executed the tight turns and left Snape Maltings, and Radio 3's presenters and their producers should be home by now. Not to mention the hundreds of musicians and audience members who have made their way to Snape, to Aldeburgh, to Southwold and to Lowestoft to make the Britten Centenary Weekend such an enlightening and absorbing celebration of the life and music of Benjamin Britten.
But we're not quite done yet: in a Britten 100 coda, you can hear a performance of the Church Parable, The Prodigal Son - recorded in Orford Church during the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival - on Radio 3 at 2pm on Monday 25 November. James Gilchrist leads the cast of this Mahogany Opera production as The Tempter, and the performamce is conducted by Roger Vignoles.
And you can enjoy all the broadcasts, and large collections of music, photos, interviews and podcasts from the Centenary Weekend, here on the Radio 3 website. We'll be adding to the collections in the coming days, so do please revisit the Britten 100 page to find out what's new.
You can also find scroll back through the days as they unfolded and read listeners' comments and photos that were shared on the Live Blog:
Thank you for joining us.
We asked some of Radio 3's Britten Centenary Weekend presenters to tell us about their favourite pieces by Britten ...
Louise FryerI love the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. The Suffolk coastline has an austere beauty that Britten captures in his music. The sea is a constant presence, but one with a changeable character – beguiling one moment, threatening the next. You can hear that Britten was intimately acquainted with it. It’s a part of the country I also know well – I live further down the Suffolk coast. A trip to Aldeburgh has always been a favourite day out. I’ll usually head straight for the sea – tramping across the steeply shelving beach, trying to flick bits of shingle out of my shoes, to reach the small strip of yellow sand at the water’s edge. Braving the water in the summer – it may be glittering with sunlight but it is always cold! - or going for a winter tramp along the tideline, running close as the waves suck out and, as they roll in, backing away just in time to keep my feet dry. Or standing with my back to the water and looking at the houses along the front – tall Victorian villas, with pastel-painted wrought iron balconies and porches, a few more modern buildings interspersed – among them Crag House – and the lifeboat station and, just inland from the beach, the Moot Hall. There’s usually time for fish and chips, (when I was young you were allowed to eat them on the beach) being dive-bombed by seagulls. And there’s the opportunity to buy shrimps or fresh fish from the lfishermen’s shacks, before heading home. All this comes to mind as soon as I hear the opening bars of the music. And having sat on the shingle this summer, watching the production of Peter Grimes on the Beach, with the sea for a backdrop and the sky streaked with pink as the sun set in the wake of a rainstorm, a lazy gull winging its way above the set, the music is more strongly evocative of Aldeburgh than ever.
Suzy KleinWhile I must have encountered it before, I first remember really 'hearing' Britten's music when I went, as a music student, to a performance of the War Requiem. The piece completely poleaxed me. I vividly remember feeling a kind of visceral tremor at the Dies Irae; the blazing brass, the clarity of Britten's writing making those Latin words of vengeance sound as if they were newly-minted. The 'monstrous anger of the guns' of Wifred Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' had me swallowing back tears. I immediately got the score out of the library and was stunned by it – the potency of Britten's pacifism translated into music of searing beauty and desolation.
Andrew McGregorAfter leading a school orchestra in St Nicholas, I came to know Britten’s music best as a singer. His sacred choral music was a magical introduction for a young countertenor and choral scholar, and my first Britten solo was as the Mouse in Rejoice in the Lamb, whiskers bristling (and heart pounding, as I can remember to this day).
Sean RaffertyCanticle II: Abraham and Isaac: I first heard this seemingly simple piece from the inside out – singing, very falteringly, the part of Isaac to our local doctor’s Abraham; he could have been professional. Just two voices and piano, but what a wealth of drama: the sense of mysticism and the boy’s uneasiness so sparingly but vibrantly drawn. The Jesuits got it right about religion; the same applies to music – immersion as young as possible!
Tom ServiceLes Illuminations is my choice: this is the one of the first pieces, for me, in which Britten's musical and emotional, poetic and sexual, sensuous and structural selves are fully revealed. Setting Rimbaud's poetry for solo voice and strings - originally soprano, but now a tenor, more often than not - the music amounts to a personal and artistic credo, above all in the motto from Rimbaud that Britten sets 3 times in the course of the cycle: 'I alone have the key to this savage parade'. That was the privilege and responsibility Britten felt was the artist's destiny in life: to see what others could not, to say what society and convention suggested he shouldn't, to be an outsider in some existential sense, yet able to express the deeper and often darker emotional truths that surge under the surface. Composed in 1939 as Britten crossed the Atlantic as a homosexual conscientious objector, the music of Les Illuminations has a coruscating power; here, in his mid-20s, is a composer who had triumphantly found his voice and who was beginning to realise who he was as a man and an artist, too.
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