Thursday 27 November 2008

Richard Hickox and British music

To my college last night for Evensong. Queens' dedicated this service to Richard Hickox, who died at the weekend. Richard was Organ Scholar in 1967-70 and an Honorary Fellow since 1996, until his untimely death at the weekend. Sir David Willcocks directed the choir in a sequence of works by some of the British composers whom Hickox championed: William Harris, Henry Balfour Gardiner and John Tavener. I got to know Richard post-Queens' when his City of London Sinfonia first started doing concert series at the Barbican and I managed the marketing. Richard Morrison's Times article encapsulates his career and Fiona Shaw talks of his work on the ENO production of Vaughan Williams' Riders to the Sea which he was to conduct, opening tonight.
Richard always supported the commitment of orchestras such as ours to young composers, and so, on a happier note, I must remind you that our Britten Sinfonia at Lunch series begins again in Krakow on Sunday, before moving on to Cambridge, London, Birmingham and Norwich. The featured British composers are Colin Matthews and Charlotte Bray.

Monday 24 November 2008

Today's Classic FM Arts Daily features Britten Sinfonia

David Butcher discusses our At Lunch series and our partnership with Cambridge University Press with Bob Jones on today's Classic FM Arts Daily podcast.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Charlotte Bray at Lunch

Our new series of Britten Sinfonia at Lunch begins in Krakow on 30 November. This year, not only does every concert have a commission from a young composer, but each one has a 'senior' composer who has helped shape the programme. Colin Matthews has nominated Charlotte Bray, so we will hear both his Elegiac Chaconne and her new work Alliance.

Charlotte has written: 'My inspiration for Alliance grew from vivid and distinct images of natural light in various forms: sunlight burning through dense clouds, piercing glimpses of blinding light catching your eye as you rush through the air. Although the opening changed direction considerably as other ideas and inspirations came to the fore, the material generated from this motivation was exploited, finally taking on a more simple, prelude-like character.

The title was chosen for various reasons. Part of my inspiration came from a Neruda poem entitled Alliance (Sonata), from the collection Residence on Earth. Perhaps representing Neruda’s feelings of isolation and alienation from the world around him; he searches through his physical environment for something or someone to connect with. My piece centres on contrasts of bleak and uplifting characters, reflecting highs and lows of an emotionally unstable personality. So energised by Neruda’s imagery, I used words from the poem to inspire each movement: I abandoned sun; II trail of light; III the struggle of the days white with space; IV upflight of butterflies.

After discovering the poem, the title seemed appropriate and fitting with my musical ideas: a journey where members of the ensemble are at times in alliance with one another and sometimes apart. Who is with who? The idea of partnership within the ensemble was powerful in structuring the work.'

Monday 17 November 2008

'What the future of music will be like': 5-star review

Richard Morrison in his 5-star review in today's Times of our London Jazz Festival opening-night concert with Dhafer Youssef and Joanna MacGregor: 'A classical chamber orchestra on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival with a Tunisian oud player? Purists on every side must have been steaming from all orifices. But this is the future of music. And it works, as this exhilarating fusion showed.'

Wednesday 12 November 2008

London Jazz Festival

Our collaboration with pianist Joanna MacGregor continues at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday, the opening night of the London Jazz Festival: full details and booking here. I was at the Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group's 'Jazz in the House' celebration to launch the Festival last night (live music by Guy Barker). There are more concerts this year than ever before: Courtney Pine is at the Barbican on 20 November; Scene Norway is a festival within a festival, with eight days of concerts at Kings Place curated by Fiona Talkington; and a celebration of the life of Esbjorn Svensson on Sunday at the Southbank Centre - these are just three of the three hundred events on offer.

Monday 10 November 2008

London Jazz Festival

On Friday evening we are performing in the London Jazz Festival, with Joanna MacGregor, Dhafer Youssef, Peter Herbert and Satoshi Takeishi. Works by Dhaffer Youssef and Arvo Pärt frame the programme, and there is music by Bartók and Gabi Luncă. Joanna has written of Luncă: 'Spoken of as ‘Tziganza de matase’, the silken Gypsy woman, the silvery-voiced Gabi Luncă came from a poor family of musicians in the village of Vărbilău. In a unique musical partnership with her husband, the accordionist Ion Onoriu, she was seen as among the greatest Rumanian singers, the grande dame of Lăutari (Roma) music. Motherless from the age of three, and never forgetting her deprived childhood as one of twelve children, she built a children’s home next to her house in Bucharest. She was recorded in her heyday in the 1960s, her songs elegantly speaking of yearning, anguish and loss; in Sus în deal, pe poienită a blackbird sings ‘Why do some have luck in abundance, while so little left for me?’'

Thursday 6 November 2008

Hisham Matar on Dhafer Youssef

Booker Prize-shortlisted author Hisham Matar ('In the Country of Men') has written a very thoughtful piece in the New Statesman about Dhaffer Youssef, with whom we are performing in the London Jazz Festival on 14 November. He concludes: 'Unlike, for example, the Arabic novel, which apart from very few exceptions is struggling to gain the attention its literary heritage promises, Arabic music like Youssef's seems to have found ways to remain vital and ambitious, relevant, and engaged.' I also like his attempt to unravel the confusion caused by the description 'world music': 'The problem seems to be with the word 'world'; as an adjective it has come to mean a sort of anthropological, homogenised muddle, and so does little to reflect the careful, earnest engagements of artists such as Dhaffer Youssef.' Read the full article!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Germaine Greer on the viola

Britten Sinfonia board member Germaine Greer has written in the Guardian on the viola. You might have heard some of the jokes before, but she makes a convincing case about the instrument's historical roots.

Monday 3 November 2008

Performance on 3: tonight

Our Night Music project will be broadcast tonight on BBC Radio 3 at 19.00 in Performance on 3. Presented by Tom Service, it was recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Monday, with music by Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Handel, Britten and John Woolrich. You can still read the programme notes and follow the texts on our website. Mark Padmore and Maxim Rysanov are the soloists.