Orchid Classic’s release of Simpson’s Geysir and Mozart’s Gran Partita

I wrote a few weeks ago about burnout. I was listening to Copland’s clarinet concerto at the time same time as writing the post. I recall thinking how Copland’s music helped me identify what I was thinking and feeling at that moment in time. Music to raise your levels of awareness. That kind of thing.

A few weeks on and it feels like made good progress on a recovery. The fatigue has passed. So too the phenomenal aches and pains. And there’s a growing sense of solidity too. And a commitment to carving out time to rest, relax and potter.

This week’s musical accompaniment (and NLP anchor, if you like that kind of thing) has been Orchid Classic’s new release featuring recordings of Mark Simpson’s Geysir and Mozart’s wind serenade in B-flat major – ‘Gran Partita’ – recorded at Saffron Hall in Cambridgeshire earlier this year.

It is a remarkable recording – brimming with colour and energy. Simpson’s Geysir is a captivating soundscape that evokes the mesmerising power of nature at its most insistent – when a geyser bursts forth. The textures Simpson combines between upper and lower wind have a quality to them I feel as though I could touch with the tips of my fingers.

Tonal harmonic progressions emerge from melodies in the upper wind contributing to a growing tension that can only be resolved one way, driven by deep powerful chords in the lower registers of the brass. It’s an aural rollercoaster. A treat for the ears. An unfamiliar concert opener coming out of my JBL speaker making me feel as though I’m in attendance at an actual concert.

That means there’s a theatrical quality to the whole thing, not only in Simpson’s score, but in the performance and recording too. It’s a listening experience that takes me someplace else.

The Mozart Gran Partita on this recording is something I’ve come back to repeatedly over the past few days. Every time it’s brought me an enormous amount of joy, either by pulling me from moments of melancholy or by helping me understanding how much of a recovery I’ve made. I’m not quite sure which it is yet.

The musical deep breaths that open the first movement are followed by a jolly industry in the allegro, depicting a colourful kind of celebration that isn’t as incongruous with our shared present-day experience as one might imagine.

In ensemble passages throughout the combined wind has a burnished quality to it that is momentarily overwhelming. Being able to hear individual lines brought out in amongst this mix reinforces the sense that actual human beings are making this remarkable sound. Imagining actual human beings playing this familiar work in such an arresting fashion is important what with the pandemic this year. Potent perhaps? Human beings making things in the weeks after the first lockdown restrictions were lifted. A recording that captures a collection of musicians thoughts and feelings in the moment. I like the idea of it. I acknowledge I might be getting a little carried away here.

Notable movements to listen out for:

1. First movement: the combined textures of Nicholas Daniel’s fragile oboe line and Mark Simpson’s rounded upper register clarinet gives this a sharp insistent energy full of determination and, as a result, hope. It is incredibly uplifting in a way I didn’t think I would feel uplifted right now.

2. The ensemble in the second movement minuet presents itself as a rich three dimensional block of colour, a deep container out of which multiple lines cascade out like a waterfall defying gravity.

3. The third movement adagio is delivered with elegance and poise throughout, topped by devastatingly fragile solo lines.

4. The same unbridled enthusiasm that exudes the first movement is present in the finale.

I’ve read plenty of blogs where the writer starts waxing lyrical about why something moved them. I admit to have been a little dismissive about what they’ve written. So I’m mindful I might be falling into the same trap here.

But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this recording has acted as an important signpost for me this year. That people I feel I half-know (and fully respect) are responsible for something that has brought me so much needed joy these past few days is a wondrous thing. Lovely lovely work.

Mozart’s Requiem from ENO

ENO’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem conducted by Mark Wigglesworth with soloists Elizabeth Llewellyn, Sarah Connolly, Ed Lyon and Gerald Finley was originally planned to be filmed in front of a social distanced Coliseum audience. England’s second lockdown put pay to that.  

Elizabeth Llewellyn undoubtedly shone in the performance with a gentle, delicate sound that felt solid. It consoled, too. This was fantastic exposure for Llewellyn – really pleased for her. Gerald Finlay’s contribution was grave and warm (if the two words aren’t a contradiction).   

(Don’t think I’m passing comment on Connolly and Lyon by not talking about them. It’s just that Llewellyn and Finlay were the voices I connected with most.)

Light was also shone on the impact distanced musicians has on performance. “The fragility of the arts has been exposed by this pandemic,” said Lucy Thraves to me earlier in the week. ENO’s performance also exposed the limitations of current mitigations.  

The distance between conductor and chorus, so too that between individual singers, exposed how much our appreciation of music depends on proximity. To date this year, I think this is possibly the biggest music performance in terms of on-stage forces I’ve seen. And I wonder whether its the upper limit too right now. It was evident how distance placed greater demands on ensemble, with the disparity between voices and orchestra easy to detect in places. Speeds varied at times. I have taken ensemble for granted, that much is clear. The BBC Proms next year seems like a long long way away in terms of getting anywhere near what was experienced in 2019, for example.  

The performance didn’t touch me in the way I’ve long anticipated billed performances of Mozart’s Requiem can be something for our collective emotions to coalesce around, though others might have felt differently. But there was a simplicity to the presentation that was the pleasing and an undoubted sense of occasion seeing classical music billed on a Saturday night at 7pm.  

I’d like to think this was a test for other such TV broadcasts in the weeks and months to come.  It would be something rather wonderful if classical music reasserted itself in the schedules, being made more visible to more people.  

Mozart’s Requiem is available on BBC iPlayer until October 2021

Arts Council England announces Round 2 recipients of Culture Recovery Fund

Round 2 recipients of the Cultural Recovery Fund were announced on 17th October – a total of £76m bringing the total given out so far to £334m.

Classical music organisations, music education, ensembles and venues who received grants from ACE are listed below. For a full list visit the Arts Council website.

For a list of Round One recipients see this blog post from Monday 12 October.

Britten Sinfonia £197,810
Bromley Youth Music Trust £213,000
Chapel Arts Centre Ltd £55,827
Chiltern Music Therapy £118,552
Drake Music £84,650
Faber Music Ltd £130,000
Ikon Arts Management Limited £58,000
Gilbert and Sullivan Festivals £120,000
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival £50,000
Kingdom Choir Recordings Limited (KCRL) £150,000
Kings Place Music Foundation £562,000
London Contemporary Orchestra £50,000
Military Wives Choirs £92,057
Music for Youth £109,000
Music in Hospitals & Care £248,570
Oxford Philharmonic £210,639
Paraorchestra and Friends £156,000
OperaGlass Works Ltd £70,000
Pro Corda Trust £60,000
Voces Cantabiles Music £115,000
Yorkshire Youth and Music £55,000

Royal Phiharmonic Society Awards 2020 shortlist announced

The RPS Award shortlist has been announced this evening. It’s a compelling list – a signpost or spotlight for those creative endeavours and individuals that tell a vibrant story of the classical music scene. The shortlist is included below. The winners are announced on Wednesday 18 November at 7pm on the RPS website.

Listen to RPS Chief Exec James Murphy on the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast discussing this years awards shortlist.

AwardShortlist
Chamber-Scale Composition supported by Boosey & Hawkes in memory of Tony FellLiza Lim – Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus
Naomi Pinnock – I am, I am
Raymond Yiu – Corner of a Foreign Field  
Concert Series and Events supported by PRS for MusicBeethoven Weekender – Barbican
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
Ryedale Festival
Venus Unwrapped – Kings Place
Conductor supported by BBC Music MagazineDalia Stasevska
Jonathon Heyward
Martyn Brabbins
Ensemble supported by Schott MusicCity of London Sinfonia
Manchester Collective
Scottish Ensemble
Impact supported by ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)Across The Sky – Cheltenham Music Festival
RPO STROKESTRA
Sound Young Minds – City of London Sinfonia
The Lullaby Project – The Irene Taylor Trust
Instrumentalist supported by ISM (Incorporated Society of Musicians)Lawrence Power – viola
Sean Shibe – guitar
Yuja Wang – piano
Large-Scale Composition supported by the Boltini TrustDavid Sawer – How Among the Frozen Words
Errollyn Wallen – This Frame is Part of the Painting
Frank Denyer – The Fish that Became the Sun (Songs of the Dispossessed)
Oliver Vibrans – More Up
Opera and Music Theatre supported by Sir Simon and Victoria, Lady Robey OBEOpera Holland Park
Nixon in China – Scottish Opera
The Turn of the Screw – Garsington Opera
SingerLise Davidsen – soprano
Natalya Romaniw – soprano
Nicky Spence – tenor
Storytelling‘Bright Stars Shone for Us’ by Tama Matheson
Our Classical Century – BBC Radio 3
‘Rough Ideas’ by Stephen Hough
Young Artists12 Ensemble
Sheku Kanneh-Mason – cello
Timothy Ridout – viola

Figures over sentiment

Arts Council England’s announcement about the first recipients of the Cultural Recovery Fund earlier this week has generated a bit of noise. In particular, much ire appears to be levelled at ACE and DCMS for ‘stipulations’ attached to receiving the award, manifest in a requirement that organisations extend thanks, use the hashtag “HereforCulture” and, outline how the money will help bring live performance back and support freelancers.

This in addition to the hushed exchanges and furrowed brows about why some organisations received the funding and others didn’t.

The noise has continued today with some arguing that the requested statements put out on arts organisations social media accounts left an Orwellian taste in the mouth – a kind of hand-wringing appreciation for funds some regard as less of an award and more of a necessity. To extend heartfelt thanks so publically and uniformly could be seen a gratitude for legitimatisation and validation by a government body, when the money is instead a ‘life-saving’ response to a critical situation.

To say thanks for something which will play a crucial role in the survival of an organisation or endeavour seems like a thoroughly decent thing to do – an easy win for a sector which has at its heart a belief that its work promotes a sense of wellbeing in the individual. Wellbeing extends to courtesy too. And if you can’t demonstrate your values in your activities and utterances then you’re very quickly going to lose the very audience the money you’re asking for is there to protect.

But what the resulting ire highlights isn’t so much a fawning sector, nor an Orwellian government, more an ill-thought out (and probably hurried) digital campaign.

To ask everyone to basically say the same thing (and then engage with those accounts) shows an editorial strategy built on figures (reach, impressions and engagement) rather than sentiment. Figures won out over sentiment. Some organisations framed their statements in a tone of voice which suited them. Others copied and pasted. The intent was sound. The originating direction could have been a little more sophisticated.

Arts Council England and DCMS announce first recipients of Cultural Recovery Fund

A selection of recipients (classical music/venues) of the first tranche of ACE/DCMS Cultural Recovery Fund. The complete list of data is available on the Arts Council England website.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra secures £834K

In response to its £834,000 grant from Arts Council England, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra issued the following statement:

“This grant from the Culture Recovery Fund – along with support from donors to our £12.5 million Sound of the Future fundraising campaign – allows us to return to giving live concerts in a safe and Covid-compliant way: we have just announced a series of ensemble concerts at CBSO Centre, and we are working towards restarting larger-scale concerts at Symphony Hall.   The funding also enables us to share more of our work on digital platforms, and to increase the reach of our community work at a time when many people may find it hard to attend concerts in person.

By getting back on stage, we will be able to start engaging freelance musicians and guest artists, and we will also help other parts of the live music sector – agents, publishers, venues and other suppliers – to start earning as well.”

Mozartists secure £99K

Mozartists CEO Debbie Coates said in response to the ACE Grant:

“These have been uniquely difficult times for our industry, and the knock-on effects both to our organisation and our talented freelance artists have been horrendous. This grant provides some light at the end of the tunnel, offering us a lifeline so that we can resume the presentation of world-class performances and generate vital work for our artists. We are immensely grateful for this show of support and confidence in our work.”

London Philharmonic Orchestra statement

David Burke the LPO’s Chief Executive, commented:

Everyone at the London Philharmonic Orchestra is grateful for this grant from the Culture Recovery Fund as it will enable the Orchestra to continue to bring the wonder of orchestral music to global audiences. We also acknowledge that the plight of freelancers, in particular, needs to be constantly reviewed and all of us who care about the arts need to remain vigilant to ensure that the many thousands of freelancers are able to continue their vital contribution to the country’s economy and well-being.”

Watch the LPO’s In The Stream of Life on Marquee TV

Wigmore Hall

John Gilhoolly, Wigmore Hall:

“We are working very hard to bring artists and audiences back to Wigmore Hall and this government injection of funds is a great first step for our national cultural life, so much part of our national identity. However, this crisis could go on and for the arts. There is no end yet in sight and further help will be needed right through the UK, and especially for freelance musicians and artists who have lost so much.”

Saffron Hall, Cambridgeshire

Chief Executive, Saffron Hall Trust, Angela Dixon said:

“We are delighted and relieved to receive this money from the Cultural Recovery Fund. These funds will contribute towards the survival of Saffron Hall and allow us to support other arts organisations and freelancers locally and nationally through to March next year as we continue to build a safe environment in which to share music. 

We do not know how long this crisis will last, but over the last seven weeks we have welcomed 118 musicians to our stage and over 1,380 audience members to our reconfigured socially distanced auditorium and we are determined to keep going. 

Many thanks to the brilliant Saffron Hall team, the board of trustees, our amazing volunteers, our members and supporters and Saffron Walden County High School.”

Classical music organisations (venues and ensembles) in receipt of the Cultural Recovery Fund

Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and the Arts Ltd £228,000
Chineke Foundation £300,000
City of Birmingham Symphony orchestra £843,000
City of London Sinfonia £75,000
Classical Opera & The Mozartists £99,452
English Chamber Orchestra £102,034
Ex Cathedra Ltd £114,078
Hampshire Music Service £249,000
IMG Artists (UK) Ltd £100,000
Intermusica Artists Management Ltd £198,000
Halle Concerts Society £740,000
London Contemporary Voices £50,000
London Philharmonic Orchestra £650,000
London Symphony Orchestra £846,000
Manchester Camerata Limited £229,000
Manchester Collective £156,174
National Youth Choirs of Great Britain £170,000
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain £250,000
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment £75,000
Orchestra of the Swan £130,000
Orpheus Sinfonia £69,966
Philharmonia Limited £967,413
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic £748,000
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Ltd £996,702
Saffron Hall Trust £245,000
Sinfonietta Productions Limited £80,990
Snape Maltings £950,000
St John’s Smith Square £227,147
West Suffolk Council £250,000
Wigmore Hall £1000,000
Wiltshire Music Centre Trust Ltd £188,158

Back Home

My mum used to run a newsagents shop back when I was a kid. The Corner Shop stood triumphant where Brandon High Street and London Road intersected. The business that resided there – newspapers, sweets, toys and ‘fancy goods’ – vacated the premises back in the 90s. The night before the transfer of power, I headed off to the place I’d spent as much as time in as my own bedroom to ‘say goodbye’.

Being there that night – around midnight as I recall now – was a bit weird. A visually familiar space that triggered memories and emotions. These memories seemed in the moment to be slipping through my fingers. I remembered then, as I do now, few especially fond memories about the place. If anything, my memory of The Corner Shop was that it had displaced family time. Perhaps I held a sense of bitterness about the place. I’m not sure.

What I do recall with clarity was the need to be present in the space the night before new more confident owners breezed in with the resolve prove good on their promise of transformation. One last goodbye, toasted with a grubby glass of luke-warm lemonade ‘pilfered’ from the shop fridge.

There were echoes of that experience last night stepping into the Festival Hall. I was last there seven months ago. Since then the place has been shut. Staff have (first) been furloughed, then made redundant. It’s none of it been pretty. The Southbank Centre is in a sense a monument to something rather brutal for a whole variety of reasons.

I was there to watch a recording of the LPO’s In The Stream Of Life – Sibelius, a Lindberg world premiere, and some Schubert I’d never heard before.

Everything sounded tight. The upper strings sounded – forgive the descriptive term – lush. All on stage demonstrated the kind of attention to detail in recording that makes for a standing ovation.

There were twelve of us in the audience, distanced close to the back wall of the stalls. I’ve never sat there before, god only knows why not. The sound was incredible. For this studio recording – an empty auditorium stretching out in front of me like blank forgotten tomb stones – were the premium seats.

I struggled with my own internal dialogue, I’ll confess. My socially distanced buddy revelled in the joyous soundworld of Lindberg’s new cello concerto. Conductor Joshua Weillerstein bounced around, whilst I reflected on how incredibly grateful I still feel to so many generous people for granting me access.

Advance notice, if you will: live music still sounds good, and when the full auditorium hears it themselves they will go wild. Certainty.

But it was tinged with sadness.

Whilst waiting for proceedings to begin in what has become a TV studio experience I remember well from the BBC, suggestions were made by my handler about timings, toilets and various other logistics. “You can only use the toilets on this floor, and you’re not allowed to go any further.”

Outside the gents on the third (?) floor I caught sight of the Skylon restaurant below devoid of table coverings, staff or punters. Below that an inky blackness. Don’t go there, even though seven months ago you’d have been allowed to go anywhere in this glorious building I call my London Home.

There was a whiff of midnight prohibited access about the whole thing that dominated the music-making as a result. Regardless of where you stand on lockdown, transmission rates, or the ineptitude if the government, public spaces like these for people (privileged) are sorely missed. And I will do everything I can possibly do to hasten the return of that experience.

Watch the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Joshua Wellerstein on Wednesday 28 October on Marquee.TV.

For more digital streams from UK orchestras, be sure to bookmark the Thoroughly Good Digital Concerts page.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra kicks off the digital season

2020/2021 is a digital season. Fact. An orchestral bigwig contact of mine said so today. There was a begrudging tone to the individual’s voice. Almost as though the penny had finally dropped: artistic planning for actual mass live audiences was now officially on-hold.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra”s first of 11 digital concerts this evening signals the first step in a new direction: orchestras stepping up to do one of only a handful of things they can practically do right now. The choice (as far as I can make out) is either closed rehearsals, concerts to a handful of real-life audience members, pre-recorded performances to reduce numbers of audience members or, as in the case of Bournemouth tonight, an actual live stream.

There was something of the pioneering days of TV (or at least how I perceive them reading histories of the early days of television) when I was setting up my laptop via HDMI to The Big TV in the Lounge. The management welcome from Dougie Scarfe was run as a visual test; the pre-concert talk was a much-needed 25-minute audio pre-concert-wrestle-with-the-sound-system. Come 7.25pm when I finally got things working, it was a pleasure to hear presenter Martin Handley converse with an orchestra-bod about the importance of this moment for the orchestra and the BSO audience.

That’s when the (relatively straightforward) opportunity orchestras now need to grasp really dawned on me. Orchestras dont’ need to recreate a concert experience;. The fact is that they really can’t. All they need to do is to create a sense of occasion. Appointment-to-view moments. That’s not about relaying live necessarily. It’s about amplifying those elements of the live concert experience that creates a sense of ‘liveness’.

Short heartfelt introductions from the management either pre-recorded or on stage go a long way to contributing to that sense of occasion. These vignettes create a sense of ‘special-ness’. They are the event-based equivalent of beautifully spoken broadcaster compensating for being unable to speak off the cuff or ask insightful questions of his or her interviewee. You orchestral administrators and artistic programmers are now, necessarily, in the business of creating occasion. You’re adept at that. Only now you’ve got to think beyond the actual music.

Bournemouth pulled it off OK. They have a cracking venue that looks good on camera. The direction could have made more use of sharp cuts (cross-fades should in my book be used only when the pace of the music permits). But once I got used to the shift in visual language, something unexpected happened: watch an orchestra play on their home turf miles away from where you’re sat watching them aad the experience will make you feel closer to them and to their brand. Boom.

This was self-determining content production. Content that reminded us of the impact state-funded arts activity has cultivated and served local communities.

Only now they’re reaching out further. Nearly 800 subscribers viewed the live feed this evening, Martin Handley told us in the post-concert sign-off. (I observed a total of 710. Either way, at £6 a ticket, that’s a pretty good return. I think.

The performance wasn’t perfect. Though really an truly, I’m not interested in perfection. I can find that (probably) on the likes of Spotify. What I want is what I imagine my sport-loving pals seek in a football match. We don’t want a win. We just want to see people doing live music-making. And maybe what us audiences need to do is adjust our expectations in the short-term. Live will return. Whilst we wait we need to look for the joy in live relay or deferred relay.

Manchester Collective’s ‘Recreation’

Released in August 2020 on the Bedroom Community label, Manchester Collective’s debut EP is a little piece of drama combining music written across multiple centuries from Bach, to Vivaldi, to Ligeti, to Paul Clark.

I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while now but have like a lot of other projects been dragging my feet somewhat. Returning to the playlist just last week and listening to it back a few times, a few thoughts came to mind.

First that this collection of tracks reignites memories of the listening experience had when purchasing an album on vinyl or CD. Here is a collection of tracks ordered with a narrative in mind. Story emerges in the transition from one vaguely familiar track and something new. Imagination is triggered by this style of curation. A personal narrative emerges.

That’s something I remember Andre de Ridder articulating when I spoke to him about the Spitalfields Festival a few years back. He talked about the idea of not just listening to the music itself, but connectiong to the mood or thoughts which emerge when two seemingly disparate musical ideas are juxtaposed. Something occurs in the gaps between music that is every bit as powerful as the music itself. Or it might even add to the music. Or even take it in an entirely different location.

As it happens, this is I think what Manchester Collective were aiming for I discover now I come to read the promotional blurb.

‘Recreation’ is a mixtape. It’s picking up something warm, soft and familiar, and pricking your finger. There is real jeopardy in the playing, which is perpetually close to the edge of what is possible in sound and in colour.

Manchester Collective

At seventeen minutes or so, it feels like a mini-concept album more than a playlist or a mixtape, indicative of the kind of real-life Manchester Collective experiences audiences who are in the know have and certainly reminscent of the one I had at Kings Place or at Peckham last year. Only this has been translated as an audio event, successful not only because of the invigorating musicianship evident in the mix, but also in the polished marketing to accompany the product. There is a sophisticated aspiration in the way ‘Recreation’ looks that is matched by what is heard.

And they achieve a rare thing. They’ve re-introduced me to the music of Ligeti in such a way that I’m hungry to hear more.

Classic Manchester Collective.

Buy ‘Recreation’ on Bandcamp for as little as 4 Euros. WAV, MP3 or FLAC downloads available.

Listen to Adam Szabo in conversation on the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast.

Viability and Jess Gillam’s Decca Release

Talk of viable jobs in the mainstream media today triggered my inner lefty. Or was it my inner liberal? I’m still not clear whether advocating the arts makes me a lefty or a liberal. Either way, the word was a trigger word deliberately placed in press releases, speeches and ‘reports’ intended to enflame and enrage.

Job done. It does enrage. But if you’re a bigger person, you’ll find a way to overlook it. The next six months (which I’m absolutely convinced will be extended by another six months in March 2021) present themselves as a grind. Yet another cross country run we have to set out on. We know we’ll complete it but dear God it seems like a struggle to get motivated right now.

The question that looms large is what story to tell of this period? Do we celebrate those who defy expectation and mount the concerts they can given the mitigations? Do we spotlight those for whom live music-making isn’t just their bread and butter but their sense of being, using this as evidence of the arts unshakeable spirit to rise up like a Phoenix (in itself a reflection of the story I tell to myself about myself)? Or is it important to highlight how the state-funded arts activity is systematically being destroyed? If one does the former does one risk down-playing the latter?

I don’t know the answer, other than the questions themselves help shape some editorial goals in the coming months. And in a weird way, I’m oddly grateful that curious editorial can be dug our from this particular shitheap.

All this whilst listening to Jess Gillam’s much-anticipated (by which I mean much-hyped) new album on Decca. The build-up has been relentless perhaps even never-ending. It might even have risked damaging the end product.

As it happens, it didn’t. This is a carefully curated selection of tracks drawing a bounty of new (to a few) composing names. The overarching mood is contemplative, thoughtful, and thought-provoking whilst avoiding the usual preponderance naval-gazing bollocks. Anna Meredith’s track in particular is not only well-placed – a kind of symphony-esque pivot point – but also balm for the soul right now.

Listen out for the plucked bass in various tracks too. It’s tactile. Tidy. Pleasing.

If you’re in search of some montage music to manage you through this weird time, this is the place to start.