Showing posts with label Roxanna Panufnik. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roxanna Panufnik. Show all posts

Monday, June 05, 2017

Silver Birch: We are all connected



"One chance to do something brave..."

It's all happening. On Saturday I went along to High Wycombe to see a rehearsal of Silver Birch for the first time. The Garsington Youth Company and some of the Adult Community Chorus were in extremely fine fettle and working their socks off, together with the Garsington music staff, the repetiteur, our director Karen Gillingham, the designer Rhiannon Newman Brown, the Foley team from Shepperton Studios, our producer Kate Laughton and many more. I came back reeling a bit.

I'm a novice librettist. OK, I've put together other words to be sung or acted, but this is the first time I've been involved in a complete, fully staged, top-notch, bells-and-whistles creation of a whole brand-new opera. And of course if you've been going to operas for more than 40 years and writing about them and reviewing them for half of that, you think you know what it takes. Or...er...maybe you don't.

Here's a little of what it's really taking to make this opera, after it's been written. This is leaving aside the devising process, the research, the writing, the composing - more of that another time.

Suzy and Patrick working with the youth company
The singers have to learn their roles. That may sound obvious, but it includes, for Silver Birch, a lot of young people and amateurs, and they have been rehearsing every week since the new year. They've all been auditioned. They had to prepare for those auditions and some who prepared for the auditions would have been rejected and would have been disappointed, and people had to audition them and make those decisions and tell them who was in and who wasn't.

The soloists - whom I haven't yet seen in action - have to get to grips with brand-new roles while also being busy with whatever else they're singing at the moment - for instance, our leading lady, Victoria Simmonds, is currently singing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni at Opera Holland Park. Our conductor, Garsington's music director Dougie Boyd, has his hands full conducting The Marriage of Figaro. And don't get me started on what language orchestral musicians use while practising, at home, a new work they've never seen or heard before.

The director, Karen, has to map out the drama and then rehearse it all. The choreographer, Natasha, is in charge of a small group of brilliant youngsters who suddenly launch into breakdancing in the middle of the drill scene. Rhiannon has to find a way to make the silver birch tree grow, among much else. During the course of the rehearsal, the adult community chorus members are summoned one by one for costume fittings - someone has to make those costumes.

The adult community chorus members are devoting lashings of time and effort to taking part. One of them happens to be Siegfried Sassoon's great-nephew (he was a great help to me in the background research for the opera) and for much of the time he is standing pretty much next to where Bradley Travis will be portraying Sassoon, or at least his ghostly presence.

The music staff are working flat out. Suzy Zumpe leads the music side of the rehearsal, teaching the youth company how to memorise the tricky details of Roxanna's score. "Nothing can grow in this soil" is a line that returns several times, the last note held a different number of beats on each occasion - she finds a trick to help them remember how many and when. And she sings all the female soloist roles herself when they need filling in, with her sidekick Patrick singing all the male ones and the repetiteur, James, bowling along through the piano score.

The stage manager and assistant stage managers are zipping around moving the post that represents the silver birch, adjusting markings, constructing and deconstructing things, and someone has already erected the substantial skeleton two-level set in this school hall. Cups of tea materialise, kindly brewed by one of the assistants. Someone has brought food for the staff's lunch, plus sustaining snacks. One person remarks that during the course of this week they've eaten their body weight in dried fruit.

Everyone has to get there and back. Rhiannon has been stuck on the M25 for hours. The team of three Foley artists (aka our sound-effects gurus) have come up from Shepperton, been to Wormsley to have a look around the theatre and now have come to High Wycombe to see how they will be integrated into the battle scene. And at this point Patrick absolutely excels himself as stand-in sound effects, doing fighter jets, machine guns, mortars and more with vocals alone.

The full score is spread out on a table, a giant publication that has had to be created, proof-read and printed. So has the piano score - the chorus members clutch copies printed with the magic name PANUFNIK in big letters on the front. Someone at Edition Peters had to organise all of that. Every rest, every semiquaver, every word has to be in the right place.

Natasha, who runs a small dance company that specialises in traditional folk dance as well as youth work, can see everyone is knackered and leads a cool-down session at the end of the afternoon. Now the kids' parents are presumably going to have to come and pick them up - indeed, a couple of proud mums have been watching the proceedings for a while. Meanwhile Kate has to organise absolutely every practical detail of absolutely everything, yet seems utterly unflappable and even finds time to drop me back to High Wycombe station.

Final scene. That post in the middle is the silver birch, growing tall and strong.

I do have to take notice and learn some lessons. It's too late to change anything in my text, but I've now twigged that it's really, seriously not a good idea for singers to have a word ending in "t" directly followed by one beginning with "d" and that a few unintended consequences can include the command: "Let's go from 'Driblet'". The kids are unfazed by this, but I quietly sink through the floor.

Over at Garsington, it will be all go, too. People have to work the booking mechanisms, send out the tickets, tell people about the trains, set out the picnic tents, stock the bar, direct the parking. The audience has to find its way to Wormsley. Will they come out at the end singing the Silver Birch Song? I think so - I can't get it out of my head.

We are all connected. All these people, hundreds and hundreds of them, are connected by the one purpose of making this new opera reality. Everyone is connected. Everyone could potentially have their life changed in some way by this thing. To say "we're all in it together" is not enough. This is not a "community opera": it's a community. To stage any opera would mean creating a community, even if the opera has existed for 400 years. This one happens to be new. And it happens to be ours.

I'm not sure I'll ever be quite the same again.

Silver Birch by Roxanna Panufnik is on at Garsington Opera on 28, 29 and 30 July. Get your tickets here.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

So what is a "People's Opera" anyway?

Sam Furness (tenor), who sings our hero, Jack
Exciting times here as summer approaches and the Garsington Opera team gears up for the world premiere on 28 July of Silver Birch, the new opera by Roxanna Panufnik with a libretto by me plus some Siegfried Sassoon poetry.

 There's a supposition doing the rounds, though, that Silver Birch is a "community opera", but in fact we've called it something else: a "people's opera". And for a good reason.

A "community opera" is generally about the experience of those taking part in it, who in many cases are not auditioned. This "people's opera" is about the audience too: whether or not they are seasoned opera-goers or first-timers at a performance, the show should be equally enjoyable for all.

We do have a wonderfully large community involvement, but everyone has been auditioned and there is a strong professional core.

The Learning and Participation department has led the project, with Karen Gillingham, head of the department, as director; 180 people are taking part in the performance, including children from local primary schools, members of the armed forces, the Garsington adult community choir - and also a truly fabulous solo cast of some of the best young singers in the country.

Victoria Simmonds (mezzo-soprano) is our strong-hearted Anna
It will be performed on Garsington's main stage, with the company's music director, Douglas Boyd, conducting it himself.

So it is, really, for everyone and about everyone. It's all about all of us working together. That's one reason we love it so much, and we hope you will too!








Jack 
Sam Furness
Anna
Victoria Simmonds
Simon
Darren Jeffery
Siegfried Sassoon
Bradley Travis
Mrs Morrell
Sarah Redgwick
Davey
James Way
Conductor
Douglas Boyd
Director
Karen Gillingham
Designer
Rhiannon Newman Brown
Composer
Roxanna Panufnik
Librettist
Jessica Duchen
Movement Director
Natasha Khamjani

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Latest on 'Silver Birch'

The Silver Birch youth company in rehearsal

The Oxford Times has run a preview of our Garsington opera, Silver Birch (music by Roxanna Panufnik, libretto by me). Read it here.

THE horrors of the First World War will meet the tragedy of modern day conflicts in an opera starring more than 180 people from across the community.
Silver Birch, a people's opera, is Garsington Opera's new commission for the 2017 season and is a story of courage and aspiration.
Building on the Great War poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and the testimony of a British soldier who served in the Iraq War it will star local people aged from eight to 80.

Here's what I've said about the process so far..

It is not only the fulfilment of a dream; this creative process, deeply collaborative at every level, has been entirely new to me , and it's one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I've been lucky enough to encounter. The theme is the impact of war on soldiers and their families, tying together Siegfried Sassoon's World War I poetry and the experiences of those serving in modern warfare. It is designed to appeal to opera regulars and first-time attenders alike. It is fast-paced and action-packed; emotions run high and Roxanna Panufnik has written some incredibly beautiful music, as well as letting her hair down a bit in the battle scene!"
Jessica Duchen, Librettist

Saturday, March 25, 2017

SILVER BIRCH: Come to Garsington and see our opera!


Booking is now open for SILVER BIRCH, the new 'People's Opera' by composer Roxanna Panufnik, with a libretto by muggins. It's not only the fulfilment of a dream; this creative process, deeply collaborative at every level, has been entirely new to me, and it's one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I've been lucky enough to encounter.

Performances are on 28, 29 and 30 July at Garsington Opera, Wormsley, near High Wycombe. You can book online here. 

The theme is the impact of war on soldiers and their families, tying together Siegfried Sassoon's World War I poetry and the experiences of those serving in modern warfare. It's designed to appeal to opera regulars and newbies alike and of all ages. It's fast paced and action packed, emotions run high and Rox has written some incredibly beautiful music, as well as letting her hair down a bit in the battle scene...
Inspired by the timeless themes of war and relationships affected by it, the opera draws upon Siegfried Sassoon's poems and the testimony of a British soldier, who served recently in Iraq, to illustrate the human tragedies of conflicts past and present. Jack joins the army to silence his father's taunts for his love of poetry. Joined by his brother Davey, their devastating experiences turn the whole family's world upside down. Supported by the power of their mother's love as she tries to hold the family together they, like Sassoon himself, seek to help those whose suffering they share. 
Jack 
Sam Furness
Anna
Victoria Simmonds
Simon
Darren Jeffery
Siegfried Sassoon
Bradley Travis
Mrs Morrell
Sarah Redgwick
Davey
James Way
Conductor
Douglas Boyd
Director
Karen Gillingham
Designer
Rhiannon Newman Brown
Composer
Roxanna Panufnik
Librettist
Jessica Duchen
Movement Director
Natasha Khamjani

We have:

A cast to die for (see above)
Some wonderful child soloists
Garsington's adult community chorus, which happens to include Siegfried Sassoon's great-nephew
A large choir of local children
Youth dance
Foley artists from Shepperton film studios
Digital animation by VJ Mischa Giancovich
Members of the Armed Forces

Book soon because there are only 3 performances and space is limited!

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Roxanna's Spring




1 March is one of my favourite days of the year, because its arrival means that January and February are gone and won't be back for a bit. Seasonal music is always a big JDCMB favourite, so here is a piece for the incipient spring.


This was the world premiere in 2010 of one piece in the cycle of Roxanna Panufnik's Four World Seasons: it's called 'Spring in Japan' and it is played here by Tasmin Little, for whom it was written, and the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis and led by David Le Page.

There's now a CD of the complete work - with 'Autumn in Albania', 'Tibetan Winter' and 'Indian Summer' - get it here.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

We need some boys who can sing and dance, please

Alert from Garsington Opera, which is recruiting for Silver Birch, the new "people's opera" by Roxanna Panufnik for which I've written the libretto. We need some boys aged 14-22 whose voices have broken and who can sing or dance. Auditions on 9 March. Performances in July.


We also need:
• some young instrumental players to participate in the orchestra alongside the pros;
• ten members of the armed forces to join the adult chorus;
• four very good child singers to play and understudy the crucial roles of Chloe (aged 9) and Leo (aged 11)

Please see Garsington's info for further details and contact Julian if you'd like to audition. And if you want to see the result, put 28, 29, 30 July in your diaries.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Choristers aren't only for Christmas

The composer Roxanna Panufnik isn't only writing an opera at the moment (our Silver Birch for next year's Garsington). She's also raising money for Friends of Cathedral Music, which aims  to support the making of music in cathedrals and sustain it for future generations. Reduced funding means that an increasing number of cathedral choirs are under threat and with them the wonderful musical experiences and educational opportunities for their young choristers. Rox has helped to launch the Diamond Fund for Choristers. They're doing a sponsored cycle to get the fundraising underway. Not just another Beethoven cycle, either: they're riding from Windsor to Westminster.

Choristers off duty! Photo: Steve Bainbridge
Here's a message from Roxanna:
Every Christmas we take for granted the sublime angelic voices that radiate from radio and TV - and are part of the very fabric of British culture. But many cathedrals choirs are at risk because of reduced funding and not enough boys and girls are aware of the amazing experience, opportunities and education being a chorister can bring. The Diamond Fund for Choristers has been launched by Friends of Cathedral Music as a supersonic drive to keep our choristers flourishing - please support us in our epic cycle, from St George's Chapel Windsor to Westminster Abbey as part of this journey! 
Love from the WACky RacerS(cycling team of Westminster Abbey Choir School) xxx

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Let's make an opera - for Garsington!

My opera-writing partner, Roxanna Panufnik. Photo: Paul Marc Mitchell
It's all official now, so I can tell you at last: Garsington Opera has commissioned a new opera from Roxanna Panufnik and I am writing the libretto. It's called Silver Birch. It's a "People's Opera". It is to be performed on Garsington's main stage as part of the 2017 festival and will be directed by Karen Gillingham and conducted by Douglas Boyd, Garsington's music director.

What's a "people's opera", you may ask? It's an opera for absolutely everyone, whether on the stage or in the audience. The cast is led by 5 principal professional opera singers. Then there are two child soloists, an adult chorus of local people, Garsington Youth Opera, a youth dance company, and a primary school-age chorus, an orchestra of 17 professionals and 20 young instrumentalists too. There'll be around 150 participants! And the story is designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, from 8 to 108.

We held devising workshops, led by the incredibly dynamic Karen, in which schoolchildren and members of the local population joined us to explore the theme of war and its impact on families, as well as the significance to them of World War 1. Both the character and poetry of Siegfried Sassoon will play an important role within the piece, connecting the ongoing World War 1 commemorations with modern-day warfare. 

The story is original, multifaceted and informed by some very personal research we've undertaken, involving interviews with members of Sassoon's family plus advisers from today's military and ex-military personnel, our principal consultant having served on the frontline in Iraq. 

It's been a whole new way of working for me and I've loved every moment of it. I hope you'll love the results too. As they say, watch this space.

More here...

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

EXCLUSIVE JDCMB SPECIAL OFFER: Wimbledon tickets!

The Wimbledon International Music Festival, which runs 14 to 29 November, is kindly offering readers of JDCMB tickets at a special reduced price for two events in this year's fabulous programme. This, happily, is my local international music festival and it is quite something to be able to hear a collection of world-class artists just a short bus ride away. 

I've also been fortunate that the festival (in 2012) staged my play A Walk through the End of Time starring Dame Harriet Walter and Henry Goodman, then commissioned another play from me - Sins of the Fathers, which was a slightly off-the-wall take on Wagner, Liszt and Cosima. Last year Viv McLean and I gave a matinee of the Alicia's Gift concert. 

This year it's over to you for these two very special treats. JDCMB readers can get £10 off the two top prices for each of these events - so £28 tickets for £18, and £23 tickets for £13.



Roxanna Panufnik
Saturday 21 November 
Henry Goodman narrates a 150th Anniversary Celebration of 'Alice in Wonderland', written by Louis de Bernieres. Matthew Trusler (violin) and Ashley Wass (piano) perform 12 short pieces by 12 celebrated composers  representing the 12 chapters of the book. The composers are Sally Beamish, Roxanna Panufnik, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Stuart MacRae, Poul Ruders, Howard Blake, Carl Davis, Stephen Hough, Richard Dubugnon, Ilya Gringolts, Colin Matthews, Gwilym Simcock, Augusta Read Thomas.
Book via this link using the promotional code Jess10, which you enter at the 'basket' stage.







Mikhail Rudy
Thursday 26 November
Mikhail Rudy (piano) presents a recital incorporating two of his now-legendary multi-media projects: Petrushka, which was a commission from this festival a couple of years ago, and his latest one - here coming to the UK for the first time - The Sound of Colours, featuring animations of the Chagall paintings in the auditorium of the Paris Opéra Garnier. 
Mikhail Rudy was close to Marc Chagall in his last years. He gave his first concert in the West with Mstislav Rostropovich and Isaac Stern in the Beethoven Triple Concerto for Chagall’s 90th birthday, and subsequently met him on numerous occasions. Now, in collaboration with the Chagall family, who allowed him to use many unpublished sketches for the ceiling of the Opera Garnier, Rudy has created a new project on the music from Gluck, Mozart, Wagner, Debussy and Ravel.
Book via this link using the promotional code Jess10, which you enter at the 'basket' stage.






Monday, December 01, 2014

Muse for the day

An extremely moving day yesterday at the Andrzej Panufnik centenary event at Kings Place. Billed as "A family celebration", it centred on performances of music by both Panufnik père and fille - these days, indeed, we hear much more of Roxanna's music than we do of her father's. This occasion, with two chamber music concerts, a film followed by a discussion and finally a Warsaw Cabaret, is the latest - and London's last, as far as I'm aware - contribution to the centenary. (Unfortunately I was only able to attend part of the event due to Elgar talk preparations for tonight, but am happy to declare myself blown away by the playing of the Brodsky Quartet and moved to tears by the film and the words of Camilla Panufnik, Andrzej's widow.)

Two very different personalities emerge, hearing Andrzej and Roxanna's works side by side, yet there are qualities in common: both love to use crunchy harmonies in which major and minor meet and greet, and there's a delicacy, a finesse, to the sound - the musical equivalent, if you like, of a shiny surface, gloss rather than matt. Roxanna's music, though, sounds free-spirited; she always leaves room for humour, or lament, or an exploration of far-off lands. Andrzej's does not.

His works are impeccable: never a note too many or too few, the architecture perfectly circumscribed, the rigour vigilant and the core strong. Yet Panufnik senior is much of his era in that his own life and music, through coincidence of time and place of birth, was circumscribed first by soviet politics and subsequently by what does emerge as an atmosphere of cultural fascism in the west. Perhaps I'm imagining it, or projecting, but his sense of vigilance over each phrase makes one feel that, when finally free from the control of others, he exerted supreme control over his own self. The structures are perfect, the substance within them almost fiercely austere.

He underwent a dramatic escape from Poland in 1954, climbing out of a toilet window to give his minders the slip while on a concert tour to Switzerland, fleeing to the airport and boarding a plane to London. In the film My Father, the Iron Curtain and Me, Jem Panufnik, Andrzej's son, retraces his father's steps and ponders on their different lives and musics (Jem makes club music and art). Imagine reaching a point when you can no longer function in your home country because everything you say is twisted to support a regime you loathe, in which music true to your own spirit is forbidden because everything must support the state, and having lost your entire family to wartime tragedy - and then losing a baby daughter as well. Driven to the point where if you don't leave, you will assuredly crack. And arriving in the longed-for west, only to find that your music is not performed because it is the wrong kind of music - it is not serialist, therefore not approved. And some luminaries you had met when they visited your old country refuse to acknowledge you because they wish to be friendly to those regimes, but not to those who abandon them (apparently Stalin termed these champagne communists of the west "useful idiots").

Panufnik was far from alone among composers in suffering this history of the double-whammy: political exile from one country followed by cultural exile within another.

It's not easy to keep alive the work of a composer after his death, but perhaps the centenary events this year will mark a return to the concert hall for Panufnik's streamlined, distinctive and unfailingly imaginative works. Poland has been doing much to rehabilitate his works and reputation; a performance by the LSO in the beautiful new concert hall of Katowice apparently brought the house down. Now we need his adopted home to do likewise. Hearing his works again has certainly been a highlight of my year. One hopes they are now here to stay.

Read and listen to more about Andrzej here: http://panufnik.com
Read and listen to more about Roxanna here: http://www.roxannapanufnik.com

Meanwhile: I'm off to the Elgar Society tonight to talk about how another composer's spirit has touched my own life so many ways.

Monday, September 01, 2014

September: some gigs and a song

Hello, it's September. How did that happen?!

Here are a few things I'm doing this month: do come along if you're in the vicinity of any of them!

14 September, 3.30pm:
HAMPSTEAD AND HIGHGATE LITERARY FESTIVAL: JOHN OGDON. I interview Ogdon's biographer Charles Beauclerk about the life and work of the troubled musical genius. LJCC, Ivy House, North End Road, Golders Green, London NW11.

21 September, 4pm:
ALICIA'S GIFT, the Concert of the Novel. Viv McLean (piano), me (narrator). Chopin Society, London, Westminster Cathedral Hall.

24 September, 6.15pm
PANUFNIK CENTENARY Pre-Concert Talk at the CBSO, Symphony Hall, Birmingham. I interview Sir Andrzej Panufnik's daughter, composer Roxanna Panufnik, about the life, legacy and influence of her father and his music. Concert includes A.Panufnik's Piano Concerto (with Peter Donohoe) and Sinfonia Elegiaca. 


September is one of the most beautiful months of the year. Here is its eponymous song by this year's top anniversary man, Richard Strauss, from Four Last Songs. The soprano is Nina Stemme, and it's the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Tony Pappano. 

I am sick as the proverbial parrot about having missed Nina's Salome at the Proms on Saturday night. I was in Salzburg to interview a VIPianist and was travelling back at the time. Apparently it was totally sensational and you can hear it on the iPlayer here: click on Listen Again, even if you haven't listened before.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Time for the Queen to have a musical mistress

Brilliant piece in today's Independent on Sunday by Claudia Pritchard: as Max steps down as Master of the Queen's Music, it's time that a woman held the job. Judiths Weir and Bingham, Sally Beamish, Roxanna Panufnik and plenty more could all be in the running.
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/why-its-time-that-the-queen-had-a-mistress-9129190.html

Monday, December 09, 2013

"Sacred space" syndrome

Or...an afternoon at St Mary's, Perivale. 

We used to hear a fair bit about the concept of a "sacred space": a place that builds up an atmosphere over years, decades, centuries - and that transmits this special energy to people who enter it and breathe it in.

I well remember reading a particularly beautiful book by lutenist Anthony Rooley which went into this idea in some depth and discussed the question of what it adds to musical performance. The short answer was "a lot". The epitome of this sacred space, if I remember right, was Dartington Hall.

In recent years - at least since the financial crash - the notion of something sacred has become inordinately tied to associations with fundamentalism (in many forms) and the question of experiencing something perhaps "psychic" or "esoteric" has become somehow old-hat new-age.

Fortunately for us, though, these matters don't cease to exist just because we stop taking notice of them.

In the past week, I've encountered two manifestations of sacred-space energy in musical performance. One was at St Bartholemew the Great - probably the most beautiful church in London, part of which dates back to 1123. Last week Peters Edition held its Christmas concert in there, candle-lit and featuring a cappella contemporary choral pieces from Britain and the Baltics, performed by the choirs VOCES8 and Lumina. Such composers featured as Morten Lauridsen, Vytautas Miskinis (from Lithuania), Eriks Ešenvalds (from Latvia), Alexander Levine (Russian-born British resident), our own Roxanna Panufnik and a fine organ piece by Judith Bingham. Anyone who thinks that beauty in music is dead should have been there. Some of the pieces were breathtaking in their use of original harmonic language and sonic imagination that - especially in the case of Ešenvalds's The Long Road - could stretch our consciousness out towards the most unexpected of developments, blending tradition with absolute originality. In the audience, it was magic.

Then yesterday Viv McLean and I went to perform Alicia's Gift at St Mary's, Perivale, and got more than we bargained for. Pictured above, Viv warming up...

St Mary's is a tiny 12th-century wooden church tucked away behind a west London golf course and the A40 just north of Ealing. For the past few years Hugh Mather - a retired medic and devoted pianist himself - has been running a concert series here. The place seats about 80 and admission is free; the audience can give a donation at the end if they wish. It's small, white, wooden-beamed, with 15th-century brasses in the floor stones protected by a carpet; and the platform area is currently dominated by a small but excellent Yamaha and a large and lovely Christmas tree. It is a comfortable, intimate space for a performance; speaking without a microphone is no worry, and the exchange between us in the cosiness of the space made unifying the two mediums of words and music remarkably easy.

But then, sitting close to the piano while Viv played Rhapsody in Blue, I noticed something extraordinary taking place. It is hard to describe, but I think some might call it "grace". It's a feeling of being suspended within the flow of time and space and breathing something lighter and purer than oxygen. A form of happiness, perhaps. Joy in its purest form: motionless and light and lacking in any worldly element. It resembles the state of a very good meditation session, yet it's spontaneous, not striven for;  something that lands on you, and you accept it because it feels so astonishing. And it is definitely to do with the space, because I've only experienced anything like it a few times before, and always in places that contain deep resonances and/or long-rooted dedications. Jerusalem, Lincoln Cathedral, that kind of place. And, yes, St Bartholemew the Great.

I told Hugh about this impression and he remarks that prayers have been said in that church for 800 years, "around 30 generations in which people have assembled there in good times and bad, and the accumulated spirituality soaked into the walls".

Incidentally, I'm supposedly an atheist. You can be as cynical as you like, but that doesn't change the fact that these things happen sometimes.

Anyway, the audience seemed to love the concert, we had a completely adorable day and it was lovely to finish the show and be greeted, heading off stage, with a nice cup of steaming hot tea.






Sunday, February 03, 2013

Valentine, plus brief Vale



I'm pushing off for a week to work on my new novel, which needs this before it can go out into the big wide world. So I'll leave you with a Valentine's Day gift recommendation. Love Abide, a brand-new CD of choral pieces by Roxanna Panufnik, is not only pink and sunbursty in aspect, but also contains some truly gorgeous music.

Roxanna, in case you haven't come across her work before, is the daughter of Sir Andrzej Panufnik and was a student of Hans Werner Henze at the Royal Academy. She has developed a distinctive musical language drawing on bitonality and world music of many traditions and her choral music is in especially great demand. Love Abide is the latest in her series of idealistic multifaith projects, in this case bringing together settings of sacred love poetry from traditions Christian, Jewish, Zen, Sufi, etc: "Be certain in the religion of Love there are no believers or unbelievers. Love embraces all" - Rumi.

The CD is out this month on Warner Classics and there's more info here at the project's designated website.


The artist Mischa Giancovich has produced beautiful animations for two of the tracks. Above, the Zen Love Song, sung by VOCES8 with Kiku Day (jinashi-shakuhachi), conducted by Barnaby Smith.

Have a good week.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday catch-up and Friday historical...

Busy patch. Here are some highlights of days past and the weekend ahead.

>> I was on BBC Radio 4's Front Row the other day, in discussion with Klaus Heymann, founder of Naxos Records, about the way the record industry has changed since the company launched 25 years ago. If you missed it, you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer until Tuesday: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01h75d9#p00s959x

>> Pianist Anthony Hewitt, "The Olympianist", has set off on his big ride from Land's End to John O'Groats and was lucky enough to encounter a strong west tail wind to get things started. He made it from kick-off to Truro in three hours, with his trusty BeethoVan close behind. Follow his progress via his website here. He's already raised more than £4000 for his seven musical and sporting charities.

>> The Royal Philharmonic Society Awards ceremony was held on Tuesday night at the Dorchester. Highlights included a gold medal for Mitsuko Uchida, whose speech was as vivid and genuine as her playing. So was Gareth Malone's - as keynote speaker he was gloriously positive. We are representing the best music in the world, so let's celebrate that! He stopped short of getting us all to sing, though. Maurizio Pollini was Instrumentalist of the Year and Claudio Abbado scooped the Conductor prize. Cellist Olly Coates was selected as Young Artist, heading off extraordinary competition from a shortlist that also included Benjamin Grosvenor and Sophie Bevan. It was an extremely good night for ENO, which won the Opera award for its Eugene Onegin. With them was Toby Spence, who won Singer of the Year, a prize that incidentally was decided upon well before the distressing news reached anybody that he has been having treatment for thyroid cancer. He tells me he is on the mend, supported by a superb team of doctors and vocal coaches. And he was wearing some spectacular leopard-print shoes. A fine time was had by one and all. Full list of winners here. A Radio 3 broadcast is coming up on

>> I've just attended a special screening of John Bridcut's new documentary about Delius. It's fabulous. Exquisitely shot, full of insights and containing one or two considerable surprises - not least, some unfamiliar music that has no business being as neglected as it is. A few familiar faces on board, too (hello, Aarhus!). Don't miss it. It will be on BBC4 on 25 May.

>> My latest piece for The Spectator Arts Blog is about the unstoppable rise of the modern counter-tenor. I asked Iestyn Davies to explain to us how That Voice works. Read the whole thing here.

>> Tomorrow the LSO is giving a free concert in Trafalgar Square, complete with Valery Gergiev on the podium. Expect lots of Stravinsky, big screens and a London backdrop second to none. And the weather forecast says that, for once, it is NOT going to rain. Even Prince Charles will tell you so. Apparently he's always wanted to be a weatherman. Now his guest appearance on BBC Scotland has gone viral...

>> On Sunday Roxanna Panufnik has the world premiere of her new choral piece Love Endureth at Westminster Cathedral, during Vespers, 3.30pm. You don't have to be Catholic to go in. Here's an interview with her about this multi-faith project that I wrote a few weeks back - for the JC.

>> Apparently Roman Polanski is making a film about the Dreyfus Case. In the Guardian he comments: "one can show its absolute relevance to what is happening in today's world – the age-old spectacle of the witch hunt on a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups and a rabid press." (Quite.)

And so to Friday Historical. Tomorrow is Gabriel Fauré's birthday. Here is Samson François playing the Nocturne No.6 in D flat.



Friday, March 09, 2012

Fanfare for uncommon women

As promised, for International Women's Day #2: ten women composers of now. A small selection and a personal one - kicking off with Joan Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. Enjoy.


JOAN TOWER



JUDITH WEIR



KAIJA SAARIAHO



LERA AUERBACH



ERROLLYN WALLEN



SOFIA GUBAIDULINA



ROXANNA PANUFNIK



ANNA MEREDITH



SALLY BEAMISH



ELENA FIRSOVA

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

How to be part of Rox's Love album

We had a high old time on Saturday at the London premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's Four World Seasons. It's a far-flung take on the Four Seasons concept, integrating folk styles from around the world with Rox's distinctive, often bitonal harmonic voice. It manages to be original, imaginative and listenable without sacrificing one jot of character; and while demanding for the performers, it also looks and sounds enjoyable for them to play. Written for Tasmin Little and the London Mozart Players, it suited them down to the ground, and the Fairfield Halls audience gave it a warm welcome.

"Autumn in Albania" is full of Balkan rhythmic quirks and delicious folksy-Gypsyish slides; "Tibetan Winter" is an icy landscape haunted by a Tibetan "singing bowl"; "Spring in Japan" wakes up the earth from deep-rooted double basses through to the Japanese bush warbler on the fiddle; and "Indian Summer" is colourful, catchy and clever, transforming pizzicati on low strings into the flowing rhythms of the tabla, and turning Tasmin's violin into a singer. A terrific concert piece to put alongside those other Seasons from Vivaldi and Piazzolla - it's for the same forces, give or take the Tibetan singing bowl - and if recorded pronto, it ought to do well on Classic FM. Three days left to hear its world premiere from Basingstoke last Friday on BBC Radio 3's Listen Again, here.

Rox's fans might like to be part of her next album, Love Abide, which is devoted to 12 choral works on the theme of spiritual love as expressed through an eclectic variety of faiths and traditions. Here's what she has to say about it.
'Each work has a particular mood or sentiment around the theme of love, expressed in a musical language that echoes the origin of the words. I’ve drawn on writings from different faiths, from the 15th century Zen Master Ikkyu¯ So¯yun to the well-loved 1 Corinthians 13; from the Christian mass setting to the 14th Century Sufi poet Rumi to the ancient Psalm 102. The CD encapsulates the very contemporary ethos of multicultural spiritual devotion, in a world which is populated by different faiths – all feeling, as deeply and as aesthetically, the compelling potency of music with love'. 
Every piece on the disc will be dedicated as a personal gift for - or perhaps in memory of - a loved one. Sponsors/dedicatees could have the opportunity to be present at the recording session, where said loved one's photo and name can be circulated among the musicians so that they can perform with that person in mind. A dedication will be printed in the CD booklet and sponsors receive a signed, framed first page of the score as well as a signed recording.

The recording will be made by a top team including the LMP (of which Roxanna is composer-in-association), the London Oratory School Choir, Heather Shipp (mezzo), Roderick Williams (baritone), the Colla Voce Singers, conductor Lee Ward and Kiku Day (Jinashi Shakuhachi).

It's worth noting that, as the designated website explains, these days many classical record companies will only agree to put out a CD if they are provided with the finished master first - ie, they won't pay for the actual recording to be made. In a way, this matches the concept of "artist-led" labels, for which musicians have to fund their own recordings; the results are then marketed and distributed under the reputable umbrella tag of a team that exercises expert quality control over who/what it accepts. Now, the artist-led labels let everyone know from the start that that's what they're doing. But in hard times, this model has quietly become more widespread. Rox has invented a way to raise the necessary funds while also giving the sponsors a real stake in the result. Something that Count Razumovsky would have approved of, I think. Or you could see it as crowd funding with a difference.

If you want to sponsor the recording, or just learn more about how it works, all the details are here: http://www.loveabide.com/

Friday, March 02, 2012

Girl Power

Hooray for music's powerful women! 

1. JUDITH WEIR AND EMMA BELL ON MISS FORTUNE


Judith Weir's latest full-length opera is heading for Covent Garden, opening on 12 March, and it's the first opera ever to finish (as far as I'm aware) with the heroine winning the lottery. Emma Bell is in the leading role of Tina, conquering a number of different stratospheres (left, Emma atop "the shape"). I talked to them both about creating what Bregenz Festival director David Pountney called "an opera for an entirely normal audience". See my feature in today's Independent, here.





2. DANIELLE DE NIESE TO STAR IN OPERA OF ANN PATCHETT's BEL CANTO


The Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned the young Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez to write the work, which is scheduled for the 2015-16 season. Ann Patchett's novel describes a terrorist attack in a South American jungle in which a group of opera lovers, politicians and a singer, Roxanne Coss, are taken hostage: over the months, attackers and hostages form unexpected alliances. RENEE FLEMING, Lyric's creative consultant, chose the book as the perfect topic for the opera. The libretto is by playwright Nilo Cruz, the director is Stephen Wadworth and Sir Andrew Davis conducts. And Danni, who's much more than Glyndebourne's fabled Cleopatra, takes the lead as Roxanne. More here.

“It’s about terrorism on one level, but it’s also about what happens when people are forced to live together for a long time, and how art can raise their level of humanity as a group,” Fleming said. “Most of us crave a cathartic emotional experience when we’re at the theater, and I believe Bel Canto has the components to do that... I was struck by Jimmy Lopez's intelligence and the way he understands both the problems in bringing this piece to the stage, but also the possibilities that opera as a medium offers for illuminating a story. For example, the orchestra can accentuate the dramatic situation onstage, but it can also convey the underlying turmoil that one might not see. This is something that many composers miss and that Jimmy understands completely.” 


3. JD TO SPEAK AT CLASSICAL:NEXT


The new classical music trade fair Classical:Next, taking place in Munich from 30 May to 1 June, has announced its initial line-up of events and speakers, and I am happy to report that JD is to be on a panel discussing the future of music journalism, along with BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy and the editor of the German magazine PIANONews, Carsten Durer. Classical:Next is a sister production to WOMEX, and if that event is anything to go by, we want to be there.

4. DON'T FORGET TAZ AND ROX's BIG NIGHT


Tonight at the Anvil, Basingstoke, and tomorrow night at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, the London Mozart Players and TASMIN LITTLE (left) give the world premiere of the complete Four World Seasons by ROXANNA PANUFNIK. Having had a sneak peek for Classical Music magazine, I reckon Vivaldi wouldn't know what's hit him. Rox writes:
"In early 2008, the violinist Tasmin Little rang me to ask whether I’d write a series of short pieces for her, accompanied by chamber orchestra. Considering a world where global concern for climate change and seismic shifts in international political landscapes affect us all, we decided to take Antonio Vivaldi’s much-loved 1725 Four Seasons and give the concept a 21st-century twist, creating an entirely new work with each season (lasting approximately 5 minutes) influenced by a country that has become culturally associated with it."  Spring in Japan, an Indian Summer, Autumn in Albania and a Tibetan Winter form the music in this celebration of music across the world, reflecting the many cultures that descend on London for the 2012 Olympic Games." 


5. JUST FOR THE HECK OF IT, HERE'S DARCEY BUSSELL AS SYLVIA


Ahead of her time, Frederick Ashton's Sylvia was created for Margot Fonteyn in the 1950s. Diana's top nymph is not exactly your typical 1950s ideal housewife. I love the power, joy and freedom in Darcey Bussell's interpretation, filmed at the ROH in 2005. Girl Power if ever we saw it! Roberto Bolle is her lovestruck swain. Enjoy.