Wednesday 25 February 2009

Next up: the Lyrical Oboe in Leeds

Our co-leader Thomas Gould joins Nicholas Daniel in Bach's Concerto in D minor for Oboe, Violin and String Orchestra in Leeds on Saturday, the climax to our Lyrical Oboe programme.

Thomas is busy: in 2008/9 he makes his Barbican and Bridgewater Hall debuts as soloist in Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, returns to the Wigmore Hall for a third lunchtime recital, gives recitals at Perth Concert Hall and Birmingham Town Hall, and guest leads the McGill Chamber Orchestra in Montreal. Thomas also maintains a strong profile in London’s orchestral life as leader of Aurora Orchestra and Manning Camerata, as well as being our co-leader.

Born in London in 1983, Thomas Gould began violin lessons at the age of three with Sheila Nelson. At eighteen Thomas entered the Royal Academy of Music on a scholarship where his principal teacher was György Pauk. During this time he was a member of the Artea String Quartet and also founded a duo with the pianist John Reid. Thomas and John continue to perform regularly together in recitals across the UK at venues including the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Bridgewater Hall, St. George's Bristol and the Wigmore Hall.

Since making his concerto debut with Kammerphilharmonie Graz in 2004, Thomas has appeared frequently as soloist with orchestras including the Gävle Symfoniorkester, Orchestra of the Swan, Orchestra da Camera, Bath Philharmonia and the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra. In 2008 Thomas premiered Seeing Is Believing, a concerto for electric violin by Nico Muhly, with Aurora Orchestra, and also performed Thomas Ades’s violin concerto in LSO St. Luke’s with London Contemporary Orchestra.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Football managers vs. conductors

The analogy between football managers and conductors is hardly new, but there is a mildy amusing article on the subject from Andrew Mellor in today's Guardian. As a North Londoner (and that's the Arsenal bit of North London) I am a great admirer of international maestros. But hang on a moment, what is the sporting equivalent of bands such as Britten Sinfonia which use conductors ever more rarely?

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Octo at West Road

Octo, the University's symbol for its 800th anniversary, is popping up all over Cambridge, building an iconographic gallery over the course of the year. Today, it visited West Road Concert Hall just before our lunchtime concert, and can be seen on Cedric Tiberghien's page-turner's piano stool.

Today's concert was recorded for future transmission on BBC Radio 3 - we will let you know when the broadcast date is announced, but the concert can be heard in London (Wednesday), Birmingham (Thursday), and in Norwich (Friday), all at 13.00.

Sunday 15 February 2009

Court Studies from The Tempest in Poland

If my memory serves me correctly, Richard Harrold's Ink is the 12th Britten Sinfonia commission to receive its world premiere in Krakow as part of our residency here. The snow today did not keep the audience away. It is always hard to judge a piece on a first hearing (and that is one of the advantages of our project, where each commission gives a piece five outings in a week, allowing the performers to really get to grips with it), but the passage I find most appealing is a long solo piano transition section which binds the opening with the concluding sections. Our UK audiences will have a chance to hear the work in Cambridge, London, Birmingham, and Norwich later this week.
Thomas Ades' Court Studies from The Tempest received – I imagine – its Polish premiere: what a rarefied, mysterious (as one would expect from The Tempest) work, with a spine-chilling final section of incredible beauty, fading to a solo violin niente. I’ve heard myself before saying this blog is not a travelogue, but Britten Sinfonia has such a strong link with the musical life of Krakow, a few photos taken during the transition from rehearsal to dinner last night seem appropriate.

Friday 13 February 2009

Total Eclipse (reprised)

To the Barbican last night to hear Handel's Samson, given by The Sixteen. The undoubted star was Mark Padmore, who opened Britten Sinfonia's season with the Act 1 highlight aria 'Total Eclipse': any nominations for a better tenor in the UK at present? Catherine Wyn-Rogers was Micah (with whom I spent a splendid evening at the Midem Awards last month); other soloists included Roderick Williams and Jonathan Lemalu, both of whom have worked with BS in recent seasons. There is a brilliant clutch of singers now who are as at ease in period performances as with singing with 'modern' bands like Britten Sinfonia.

Thence to Krakow for the premiere of Richard Harrold's Ink. I hope to give a report on that on Sunday: there are chances to hear it in Cambridge, Birmingham, London and Norwich next week.

Wednesday 11 February 2009


Thomas Adès’ Court Studies from his highly-acclaimed and popular opera The Tempest are set alongside the music of the young composer Richard Harrold in our next project which starts in Krakow on Sunday. Pianist Cédric Tiberghien joins Jacqueline Shave, Caroline Dearnley, and Joy Farrall in a programme which also includes Debussy and Fauré. You can read about Cédric on his management's website.

Richard Harrold was born in 1982. He has written of his new work:
'Ink is a neo-baroque study of rhythm and asynchrony. The ensemble is divided into pairs that contribute opposing material to a sparse, linear texture, whose systematic development toys with the sense of ensemble and the nature of the counterpoint. While these rhythmic and thematic conflicts exist within the group, for the most part the players move as one instrumental and sonic entity.'

Who needs a baton?

You can listen to our Webern/Haydn/Beethoven concert on BBC Radio 3 this evening at 19.00 GMT. Hilary Finch in today's Times: 'Who needs a baton? Who even needs a conductor? The thought often occurs in performances in which a conductor's ego and body language become a distraction. Or, indeed, in performances in which an orchestra clearly knows what it's playing so intimately that all it needs to do is to listen and re-energise itself. It depends on size and repertoire, of course. But the Britten Sinfonia, led by Jacqueline Shave, showed that it could handle Webern, Haydn and Beethoven convincingly without the pantomime on the podium.

The raison d'être of Imogen Cooper directs Beethoven was the Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor. There were no frilly hand gestures; no lungeing of the body towards the orchestra; no coy nods and winks. What transfixed the audience was the palpable energy that coursed from player to player: from keyboard to leader's bow, from violins to woodwind and brass, and back again.

The organic power and economy of Beethoven's writing felt more dynamic than ever. Cooper's own rhythmic regeneration of theme and counter- theme, her sense of direction, and her ability to let the music yield and breathe, led to a fearless cadenza with a movingly hushed exit. A veiled inwardness hung over the slow movement. And the finale was measured, tense with concentrated energy, and with wonderfully tapered phrases of harp-like passagework.

This was the grand finale of an evening that had begun, courageously, with an impassioned performance of Webern's Five Movements - miniatures of finely-tuned sensibility and raw nerve endings, each one dazzlingly democratic in its re-creation. The presence of a conductor could have added nothing here, and little in Haydn's Symphony No 88.'

Saturday 7 February 2009

Cold weather, warm reception

The weather did not deter a large and enthusiastic audience from attending our concert last night in Norwich: Webern, Haydn and Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 3 with Imogen Cooper. We entertained our growing band of subscribers during the interval, when they were given a sneak preview of our plans for 2009-10 (our blog fans will have to wait a little longer!).
Tickets for Monday's performance in London can be booked online.

Friday 6 February 2009

Initiation to Webern

Our latest tour started last night in Cambridge, with Imogen Cooper giving a peerless performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 3. An anecdote: I was delighted to meet an adult who was at his first ever classical concert and professed zero knowledge about the genre. And which was the piece he enjoyed the most? Webern's Five Movements - brilliant!
We are doing the same programme tonight at the Theatre Royal in Norwich and then on Monday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Shoe-in at West Road

West Road Concert Hall is, this week, more famous for the shoe-throwing incident during the Chinese Premier's visit to Cambridge on Monday, than the music presented there. Ironically, the Chinese Embassy's advance posse were checking the Hall during our composers' workshop last Saturday morning, during which no shoes were thrown. Oliver Knussen worked with five young composers on pieces they had written for the same line-up as our January lunchtime concerts. The quality of the compositions was very high, so these are names to look out for: Kate Whiteley, Frances Bamber, Joel Rust, Jonathan Coffer and Tom Kimber.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Via Crucis CD

It's a March retail release, but our new recording with Polyphony of Pawel Lukaszewski's 'Via Crucis' is now available on the Hyperion Records website. Having listened to an advance copy I am glad that the impact it made in concert is captured brilliantly: its power is partly through its long, slow build - it is not the kind of piece you dip into. The striking image chosen for the cover is one of the paintings by Jerzy Duda-Gracz for the Stations of the Cross at Jasna Gora, the monastery which is the home of the Black Madonna and has a symbolic role in Poland's history. As Meurig Bowen writes in the CD booklet, 'The journey witnessed in the Via Crucis - the conflict, the suffering, the humiliation, the defiance, the resurrection - can also be seen as a reflection on Polish Catholicism's victory over Communism'. Thus, crucifixion iconography is updated, with the Polish Pope, a concentration camp inmate and the Black Madonna icon itself. An interesting debate about CD covers has started on another blog: On An Overgrown Path. Will this new cover feature?
Our next live concert is in Chelmsford tonight; it was sold-out before the weekend, so do check with the box-office for returns before turning up.