Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Perth Concert Hall secured the internationally famous Bach Collegium of Japan for a whole weekend of world-class baroque music.

See my review over at Bachtrack

Masaaki Suzuki of Bach Collegiate of Japan

Masaaki Suzuki of Bach Collegiate of Japan Photo: Marco Borggreve

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Scottish Ensemble

Great concert.    4 stars.   Reviewed on Bachtrack


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 Anthony Marwood was guest director for the final set of concerts in the 2010/11 series from the Scottish Ensemble. 

Review appears on Bachtrack.

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For seasoned opera goers, the phrase ‘Community Opera’ can conjure up all sorts of feelings – not all good.    These projects can sometimes be well-meaning,  worthy and just a bit dull unless you are taking part, or a parent of a young performer.

So it is a delight to report that the double bill of short community operas at the Glasgow Citizens was none of these things.   It was an absolutely  sparkling evening, as evidenced by the electric buzz in the foyer afterwards.

On the Rim of the World

On the Rim of the World - photo Citizens

On The Rim of the World by Orlando Gough was first on the bill, co-commissioned by all the main UK opera companies who have been performing it ‘in their own way’ ever since.    Glasgow’s turn drew on the well established Citizens Community Theatre together with 30 children from schools across the Gorbals also picked to take part.     Using the professional resources of the Citizens and Scottish Opera, and a visit from the Composer himself, this piece about children too awake for bedtime was worked up into a very special show.

With upbeat and singable music, we were taken on a journey into sleep with nightmare giant chickens, and a circus.    In a nice touch, the Dads were left at home coping with babies and the  lively children while the Mums got a night out.    

The stars of this show were the 50 strong ensemble who acted, danced and sang their hearts out.    With an able band in the pit, which included a saxophone and an accordion, there was so much to like in this wonderfully imaginative show.

Dr Ferret's Bad Medicine Roadshow

Dr Ferret's Bad Medicine Roadshow - photo Citizens.

The second opera, Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Show written by Stephen Deazley was commissioned by Scottish Opera to showcase the talents of  the young group of under 22s they have been quietly working with for the past few years.      Based on Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, we were told the much-loved stories  about Henry King and the string, Jim and the lion, George’s dangerous balloon and Matilda’s lies.   

The music was light and catchy with lots of singing for everyone.   Like the first piece, singing, and stagecraft were spot on.      Scottish Opera’s orchestra played the intriguing score with relish.   There was a massive array of percussion set out along the side wall, and watching Jay Allen get round it all was a show in itself.    This charming opera deserves to be performed again for a wider audience.

Most importantly, apart from being real fun for performers and listeners, this demonstrated how two national professional companies can work together, and can involve performers from the wider community to produce something very special.      Coming soon after Scottish Opera’s collaboration with RSAMD on The Cunning Little Vixen, this can only be good for future arts in Scotland.

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Cunning Little VixenThe teaming up of RSAMD’s best students with Scottish Opera has now become a much-anticipated annual event:     it is a showcase of how a national opera company can work together with a national music conservatoire to provide immensely valuable experience, and a chance for the youngsters to work right alongside the professionals on stage, off stage and in the pit.

This year, the combined forces chose to revive David Poutney’s much-loved 1980’s WNO/SO joint production of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, not seen in Glasgow since 1997.    Always a charming piece, Poutney’s production was a landmark of its time, and the undulating forest design by Maria Bjornson adds much to the magic of the musical soundscape.

This year, for the first time, Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists were added into the mix, as were pupils from Scottish Ballet.    To get the most value for the exercise, the main singing parts were double-cast, with a performance apiece in Glasgow and Edinburgh.   

The opera is on one level about the forest and its animals, and we follow the story of Vixen Sharp-Ears, taken back to the Forester’s home as a pet cub, but who quickly shows her true character by killing his hens and escaping.     She meets a mate, and they have playful cubs, but though she is shot and killed by the Poacher, it is clear that life continues in the forest year on year.  

And year on year, this opera is about old age, and loves which might have been:    the Schoolmaster misses his chance to marry Ternyka as his friend the Poacher beats him to it, and the Forester sings about old age and the shot vixen.   In the final moments, a frog jumps onto his lap, and reminds him that he is the grandson of the frog who did the same thing when he first met Sharp-Ears.

Janacek was 70 years old when wrote the Cunning Little Vixen and deep  in unrequited love with the much younger (and married) Kamila Stösslová, making the Forester’s final song all the more poignant.

Seen on its second night in Glasgow, the night belonged to Michel de Souza, Scottish Opera Emerging Artist who sang a wonderful Forester, and he was well matched by opera student Natalie Montakhab’s vivacious vixen who put in a simply  thrilling performance.      But that is not to detract from the large cast of singers and dancers whose enthusiasm  made this a memorable evening.

And finally, a special mention to Emily Chappell for the charming programme illustrations.

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Boo!  Boo!  Boo! to Horsecross.   

rotten tomatoes for Horsecross

Rotten Tomatoes for Horsecross

Horsecross which runs Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre has just introduced booking fees after being booking fee free since it opened – apart from touring shows which imposed their own booking fees.

Booking fees are a rip-off tax on the arts, and Horsecross is charging 50p a ticket.    So I have just bought 12 tickets in one transaction for several events which comes to around £180, and I now have to pay an extra £6 “arts tax”.    

It does not cost £6 to process £180.

The lunacy is that if I buy 12 tickets for the same event the booking fee is waived on tickets 11 and 12.    That’s real Alice in Wonderland logic for you, as is the waiving of the booking fee if you turn up in person and pay in cash.

If I go into a supermarket, I don’t have to pay extra for the shop to process my transaction.    Horsecross should be no different.   There are plenty of arts organisations that don’t charge booking fees, and Horsecross should be one of them.

Consider this post a generous dose of virtual rotten tomatoes.

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Scottish Ensemble

The Scottish Ensemble - Photo Joannne Green

Outside St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth it was minus 8 deg C, and pavements round about were extremely difficult to use due to thick uneven layers of ice.     Nevertheless, a decent crowd turned out for the welcome annual Candlelit Concert treat from The Scottish Ensemble at Christmastime:   the Perth concert was the last of a tour of Scotland, and in a week of difficult weather and cancelled events, the Ensemble had somehow dodged the snow and played every concert.

As Jonathan Morton explained, these concerts at Christmas time are not always Christmassy, and in the centrepiece of  a fine Czech programme,   Janacek’s Quartet No 1 – the Kreutzer Sonata, arranged for the Ensemble by Morton, was the certainly not festive.      Based on Tolstoy’s story of a jealous husband who murdered his wife because he thought, mistakenly, that she was having an affair with the  violinist whom she accompanied playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer’s Sonata.     The tale is told by a narrator on a train, as we hear the rhythmic clack of the wheels in the music from time to time.    Janacek visited turbulent themes in his operas, and was so taken by this story that he wrote the piece in only eight days.    In stark contrast to the evening’s bookended Dvorak pieces, this was splendidly spiky dissonant high energy music and  just the musical  territory the Ensemble likes to really get its teeth into playing.    The story was well told, with a special highlight being a duet between Jonathan Morton and Alison Lawrance on ‘cello in the third movement.

The piece was arranged by Morton from a string quartet, and I wonder whether the original would have had as much impact as this performance without the added double bass and other instruments.

Dvorak’s Nocturne in B Major for String orchestra started the evening.   One of the best things about a Scottish Ensemble concert is watching the interactions between the players, no more so than during a beguiling piece like this as the players were clearly enjoying themselves.

Because it was Christmastime, we were treated to a small extra:   Josef Suk’s Meditation on an Old Czech Hymn, which was delightful bonus.

The second half was just one work:  Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings in E.    As if to help us forget the elements outside, this brought sunny playing in the five movements.      It was  interesting to contrast these two composers, only born thirteen years apart, and so very different.   The programming encouraged us to search for premonitions of Janacek  in the Dvorak music, revealing perhaps the less obvious darker undercurrents.  

St Ninian’s cathedral with its was a nice warm acoustic looked very festive by candlelight with a large Christmas tree.    However, there were serious shortcomings with this venue as the heating battled against the frost and draughts blew down from the stained glass.   Few in the audience shed their warm outer clothing, a luxury not extended to the players who were clearly challenged by the conditions.    In this venue, the sight lines are very poor, and even from the 4th row back, most of the players are difficult to see as they are not set up high enough.   In the past, these concerts were in St John’s Kirk, which shared some of the problems at St Ninians, but was a better venue.    We moved into the new purpose-built Perth Concert Hall, which has great acoustic, excellent sight lines and proper audience facilities, and where audiences built up from the St John’s Kirk days.    It is a shame that these past two concerts have not taken place in the Concert Hall, which was surely built for occasions like these.    

Jonathan Morton thanked us for turning out, and we should thank him in return for pressing ahead with this wonderful concert in very much less than ideal conditions.

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Scottish Ensemble – Perth

There was a big political conference in Perth this week closing off the Concert Hall for days, so the Scottish Ensemble decamped to St Ninian’s Cathedral for the first concert this season.   Although the acoustics are pretty good, there is the constant rumble of traffic at the busy junction outside.    And it is draughty.   But if you arrive early and battle the unreserved seating system to get a seat near the front, it is a very intimate venue, and all the more exciting for that.

The music was about as wide a mixture as you could get, with two Vivaldi pieces balanced with music from Finland – Sibelius and Sallinen, and from Romanian George Enescu.

The Ensemble started with a Vivaldi Concerto, with a fresh crisp sound blowing any cobwebs away with the use of special baroque bows.   It was nice to see some new players in the group, as well as a theorbo player.   It is difficult to ignore this massive bass lute instrument which squeezes on stage and demands a lot of space.   It also sounds marvellous.

The specially co-commissioned piece by Finn Aulis Sallinen called Chamber Music VIII The Trees All Their Green was preceded by Sibelius’ Impromptu, and run together to ‘see if the pieces talked to eachother’ over the 100 years separating them.    They were joined by guest ‘cello soloist Pieter Wispelway playing in the ranks in the Sibelius and taking centre stage for the Sallinen.   I liked to think I spotted some links, but the pieces were very different and enjoyable.

Wispelway continued with the Vivaldi B Minor ‘Cello Concerto, winding up the Ensemble to ever greater excitement.   The slow movement with ‘cellos and theoboro provided a beautiful contrast to the faster outer movements.

The second half was George Enescu’s massive Octet which was a piece the Ensemble really got their teeth into with leader Jonathan Morton playing or conducting with his bow.    The music was quite a mixture and complicated, with Richard Strauss type key changes but folky Romanian in parts too.

We went to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven and Brahms a few days before.   It was a very good concert in the capable hands of Donald Runnicles – and how lucky Scotland is to have him back.   But I am trying to work out why this Scottish Ensemble performance was so much more exciting – by a mile.   Perhaps it is watching how the players glance at eachother during the pieces – they are looking for cues, but you can catch big smiles there too.   And that is the clue – the players are really enjoying themselves, no moreso than the leader, up on the balls of his feet and absolutely in charge.

They take the same concert to the Wigmore Hall in London.

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I wanted to catch Corinne Bailey Rae after seeing her on the Abbey Road TV programme a while back – first with Put Your Records On, but then, more interestingly with Harbie Hancock singing River  – the bass player and drummer in that clip were in Jeff Beck’s band when he played at Ronnie Scott’s.

Corinne Bailey RaeFirstly, the positives:   Corinne Bailey Rae is a wonderful singer who has written some seriously good songs.    Not only that, but she really performs them on stage like she means it, and they were both edgy and mournful at times.     The songs cry out to be listened to.   

Sadly, her songs were all too often drowned out by the band.   The mixing desk folk must have had cloth ears – what is it that they actually do?   There was simply far too much noise and the sound was unforgiveably muddy from a crew intent on serving up a heavy rock mix instead of a jazz-type mix which would have allowed us to hear the artist properly.

Bailey Rae should rethink her presentation style, have words with her sound crew, and get them to pay the parking ticket which was on her tour bus outside by way of penance.   This is how the line-up should have sounded.

You see the ad, buy the tickets and ring-fence the date in the diary.   You look forward to it for weeks.    You drive 50 miles to the gig and 50 miles back again, only to have it messed up because someone can’t work a mixing desk.      Disappointing.    We were not the only ones to think so – the folk next to us left early.

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There is a brand new collaboration between BBC Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama across all atristic genres.    Today saw a wonderful workshop with top players from RSAMD getting the chance to play a concerto with the whole BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the City Halls.

Kirsten Jensen played the Schuman ‘Cello Concereto, Calum Robertson a Carl Nielsen Concerto for clarinet (he is also Organ Scholar at Old St Pauls), and Tom Poulson playing a trumpet concerto by Jolivet.   These were all virtuoso pieces, and were also pretty tricky for the orchestra, who never put a foot wrong.

Coming on top of the recent success of “War and Peace” collaboration with Scottish Opera and the Rostov-on-Don Conservatiore, it is a feather in the cap of RSAMD and its new partners.   And of course, a treat for our young musicians to get a feel of the professional world they are seeking to join.

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