The language we use to describe music has the potential to convince, persuade or reassure the newcomer, the sceptic, the wary, or the dubious-minded that classical music is a cultural journey worth embarking upon.
To that end those who are already fans or devotees of classical music play an important role in articulating their passion in a relatable way. It is us who have the opportunity to build community around the art form by drawing on our knowledge and enthusiasm to illustrate why this musical genre matters. Some might say its even a responsibility.
At a point time when the art form needs those advocates at every level to seize the opportunity presented by the gradual return of live performance, we have the chance to channel our collective passion and articulate why the music we love has the impact on us in the way that it does.
This is not to say that music impacts in only one way, nor that it will impact two people in the same way necessarily. Rather, by sharing our reflections on how music impacts us personally, we underline why curiosity and awareness are the only requirements for exploring this wide and varied genre.
Thoroughly Good as a business is built around this core value, a value discovered as a result of numerous conversations with artists and audience members. When the curious amongst us hear people talk about the music they love, we are encouraged, persuaded perhaps even compelled to listen to it too.
Being mindful of the language we use to describe music is vital. We need to present ourselves as a welcoming community, open to all.
Horn player Ben Goldscheider has a remarkable CV for someone who came to prominence back in 2016 following his BBC Young Musician Concerto Final in 2016.
Solo appearances followed with the BBC Concert, BBC Symphony, Aurora, English Chamber, and and Manchester Camerata. He’s been guest principal for West Eastern Divan, English Chamber and Philharmonia. Last year he featured in a recording of Mark Simpson’s Geysir and Mozart’s Gran Partita. This year he records as soloist with Philharmonia and appears at Wigmore Hall. He’s 23.
The release of Godscheider’s musical tribute to much-loved musician Dennis Brain whose centennial the music world is marking at the moment is a homage to the legendary horn player who died at 36 in 1956 in a car crash.
Dennis Brain (1921 – 1956) came from a musical family. Grandfather and uncles played the horn; Dennis’ father taught Dennis the horn throughout his Royal Academy of Music years; brother Leonard played the oboe; mother Marion played the piano.
Brain is celebrated for the quality of his sound which even in a mono recording like Strauss’ first horn concerto with the Philharmonia from 1947 is something to marvel at – a long elegant self-assured melodic line that reassures with every caress. The opening subject of the first movement evokes a powerful image – a column of air that starts in the pit of the abdomen and weaves its way across a wide vista with grace.
That so many composers in Brain’s early career were interested in the horn player’s playing is reflected in the music written for him by the likes of Hindemith, Benjamin Britten and Gordon Jacob. “Dennis Brain has often been heralded as awakening the horn from a long slumber,” said Ben Goldscheider in the release for the album, “such was the comparative barrenness of the Romantic period in terms of compositions for a solo horn player.”
The album ‘Legacy’ consists of music for Brain (it surprised me that Poulenc wrote for Brain), and that written in memory of him, the most arresting of which on a first listen for me at least is Huw Watkins Lament.
Lament is a ravishing creation, taut and efficient, charting a journey through a range of emotional statements punctuated with anguished leaps. Music with humanity that has the power to console. It’s rare that new music I’m invited to write about prompts so many listens as this has this week. It’s music that makes me want to explore Huw Watkins other output further. Some achievement.
Listening to Roxanna Panufnik’s Sonnets without Words during Ben’s Facebook premiere launching the album on Friday night, the sound of her rich array of harmonies made me think of her Love Abide album on Signum featuring Voces 8 (a release that triggered a revealing interview with Roxanna for the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast back in 2019).
“Panufnik speaks when she’s writing for the human voice,” I said to The OH (it sounded less pretentious than it reads) as we watched Goldscheider play Sonnets.
Reading the booklet now at the time of writing this post I now understand that Sonnets started as a work for voice and piano.
That her transcription for horn and piano makes me think that when listening to Goldscheider’s recording helps me appreciate more what Roxanna’s compositional language is. Sweet Love Remember’d has an absorbing theatrical air about it.
The other striking thing about this album is Goldscheider’s playing. In Watkin’s Lament and Mine Eye from Roxanna Panufnik, there’s a fragility to the vibrato that creates jeopardy to the listening experience. The sincerity in the voice creates a persona that mixes self-assurance and vulnerability. Utterly fascinating.
In posting this I want to call out the video production and PR for Ben’s album release. If you’re looking to encourage people to listen, think, reflect, and advocate the material then sharing a range of supporting material off the bat is bottom line stuff. Artists looking to maximise reach must understand why it’s important to engage with video, image, and copy production. Without that supporting material advocating new work is made more challenging. Goldscheider’s team has done textbook work.
Before the week draws to a close, I wanted to write a personal reflection about Mental Health Awareness Week.
After fourteen months or thereabouts of largely isolated human-less living, the prospect of final stages of eased restrictions might seem like the end of the pandemic. There is an assumption underpinning the approaching end of lockdown: the world is returning to normal; we can return to our normal lives.
But transition back into that ‘normal’ life is, it seems to me, a far different prospect.
Even today, with Nicola Sturgeon announcing some areas of Scotland remaining in a state of reduced lockdown whilst other areas are released.
For people across the UK their experience of returning to the world is subject to a vast array of differing timescales. Their perception of freedom will be based on the opening-up of activities, but also be rooted in perceived restrictions or perhaps imaginary ones.
Being able to hug people or step back into a concert hall auditorium isn’t the end of pandemic-driven mitigations; it is only the beginning of the regaining of freedoms. Some of those freedoms are real, tangible things. A great many others are in the mind.
For a considerable number who were made or took voluntary redundancy in 2020, finding another job has been hard. I have felt this at home supporting my partner whilst he finds alternative work. Recruitment is tough even with specialisms and experience on your side. Continued unsuccessful job hunting for those who lost their income during the pandemic prolongs the sense of isolation and restriction. The inevitable lack of purpose that arises damages motivation, and impacts self-belief. The impact that has on the state of mind for both job-seeker and supporter is draining. The pressure is immense.
Quite apart from the logistics, practicalities and financial responsibilities, there’s a sense of guilt stitched into this period in time. On a local level I see my world – the classical music world – opening up again. It’s by no means a straightforward opening up. It does in some respects feel a little precarious. Charlotte Higgins has a fairly punchy summary of the situation the UK arts scene faces from 17 May.
However, with conversations about future work for me coming in, the guilt that arises when one’s partner continues to wait patiently and positively for work opportunities to come his way is a little difficult to swallow. Freedoms aren’t freedoms if the ones you love can’t experience their version of freedom too.
That’s what I mean about how people will experience coming out of restricted living at entirely different paces. It will be different from that articulated by Government guildelines. Individual experience will be different from one another. Coming out of this (whatever that really means) will bring about all manner of pressures on our mental health too that we’ll need to be prepared for.
That’s quite apart from the experience of breaking out of the relative ‘comfort’ zone we’ve all become accustomed to over the past year or so. That transition places demands on our mental health as well.
I consider myself very fortunate this past year. I have benefited from regular freelance work when it was quite possible (and I did for a while believe) everything could have fizzled out right from the word go. Me and my partner have space to do what we need to do without getting in one another’s way. We laugh a great deal and, importantly, we’re able to speak openly about how we feel, with one another without consequence or judgment. We understand one another’s differences and respect them. We also know the importance of focussing on abundance rather than scarcity.
That said, it’s not always easy to keep the boat afloat.
I’ve also seen a shift in how we talk about our own mental health. This may of course only be a reflection of my circle of friends, colleagues and peers, and subject to confirmation bias too. But there feels as though there is greater openness in conversations. People I talk to don’t rush in to rescue with ideas to make things better. People check in more on a regular basis with a WhatsApp message or a call, and that prompts me to do the same with them. I am fortunate to be part of a network that sustains me.
It wouldn’t be authentic if we weren’t able to reflect calmly and objectively about our thoughts and feelings during Mental Health Awareness Week. So in the spirit of leading by example, here goes.
I find this time immensely tiring. I have no sense of when our situation will resolve, though the hope is considerable. The prospect of the world opening up a little bit more is exciting for me, but a difficult when I know someone I care deeply about is looking for work. Sometimes the worries that emerge as a result – ruminations on catastrophic thinking if you’re looking for the coaching parlance – are all consuming. They have become so familiar now as to be inextricably linked with the depressing shade of green I slapped on my office walls a few years ago in a bid to ‘finish decorating the office’. It’s beginning to feel a little oppressive now, so too the paintwork.
But this is where resilience is shored up. This is the moment in time when we surprise ourselves on a daily basis. This is the time when we begin by making small goals and commit to reaching them no matter what. The path out of this is not quick, not signalled by a Government announcement, or easy. And if you can’t say that in Mental Health Awareness Week, when can you?
The winners were announced at the International Opera Awards earlier this evening. The ticketed pre-recorded digital stream celebrated an international community of opera creatives in a mixed programme of awards and performances.
The picture of awards host Petroc Trelawny is from the Opera Awards archive.
CHORUS Metropolitan Opera
CONDUCTOR Kirill Petrenko
DESIGNER Małgorzata Szczęśniak
DIRECTOR Robert Carsen
EDUCATION & OUTREACH Birmingham Opera Company
FEMALE SINGER Lise Davidsen
FESTIVAL Salzburg Festival
LEADERSHIP sponsored by the Good Governance Institute David Pountney
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT Bernard Haitink
MALE SINGER Javier Camarena
NEW PRODUCTION Tale of Tsar Saltan (Tcherniakov, La Monnaie De Munt)
NEWCOMER Alpesh Chauhan
OPERA COMPANY Teatro Real, Madrid
OPERA FOR PEACE PRIZE Denyce Graves
OPERA ORCHESTRA Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
PHILANTHROPY Martina Arroyo Foundation
RECORDING (SOLO RECITAL) Jakub Józef Orliński: Facce d’amore (Erato)
RECORDING (COMPLETE OPERA) Thomas: Hamlet (Naxos) [DVD]
OPERA MAGAZINE READERS’ AWARD Jamie Barton
REDISCOVERED WORK Moniuszko: Paria (Teatr Wielki, Poznań)
WORLD PREMIERE Glanert: Oceane (Deutsche Oper, Berlin)
YOUNG SINGER sponsored by Mazars Xabier Anduaga Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
An unexpected message in my inbox this morning drawing my attention to a new commission premiering at the Southbank Centre on 9th July from resident band London Sinfonietta.
Composer Laura Bowler (pictured) seeks to bring more attention to the ongoing climate crisis, bringing music and movement together in an inventive and thought-provoking piece: the entire performance and the resources needed to host it will be powered entirely by cyclists, on-stage with members of the London Sinfonietta. I hope to God they’ll make sure they’re oiled the chains beforehand.
Bowler’s new work work Houses Slide, describes one woman’s psychological journey to investigate her response to the climate emergency.
The concert is directed by the award-winning theatre director Katie Jane Mitchell OBE who will position 16 bicycles on stage with the players. It’s these bicycles that will power the production and the venue.
Bowler said of Houses Slide, “The climate crisis is the most urgent matter for the artistic community to address right now. The more ways we find to communicate the problem, the more likely people will become active in demanding governmental action and in turn global action. Houses Slide delves into the complexities at the heart of the climate crisis; climate psychology and climate grief. How can we change our minds and the minds of others? How can we effect change?”
This video previewing her collaboration with Manchester Camerata a few years back helps provide some background on Bowler’s work. What I’m drawn to here are her values, particularly the importance she places on creativity based on authentic experience, and the need for the music experience to communicate.
Here in particular I’m excited by the way she creates soundscapes – audio renditions of the thoughts and feelings which arose as a result of that experience. In the case of Houses Slide, that makes the creative output something that will undoubtedly provoke thought and reflection.
Houses Slide with London Sinfonietta premieres at Royal Festival Hall on Friday 9 July.
Tom’s winning performance included Rachmaninov’s V molchanyi nochi taynoy (In the silence of the secret night), Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder: Abschied (Farewell), Finzi’s The Phantom: Earth and Air and Rain, and Moss’ The Floral Dance accompanied by pianist Inês Costa.
Baritones do as a rule leave me completely flummoxed. Such deep sonorous voices only make sense to me if they’re generated by big set men with age on their side. Mole is 22. His physical presence – he is remarkably tall stood in front of the piano – combined with a steely distant look in his eyes makes for a captivating self-assured performance. Watch him with the sound turned down and keep an eye on his face – the storytelling in his facial expressions is quite something.
The other Gold Medal finalists, tenor Thando Mjandana, soprano Laura Lolita Perešivana and soprano Olivia Boen also performed songs and arias of their choice. Accompanying the singers in the first half of the concert were pianists Josh Ridley and Toby Hession.
This year’s judges featured: Professor Jonathan Vaughan, Vice-Principal & Director of Music at Guildhall School; Huw Humphreys, Head of Music at the Barbican; Gweneth Ann Rand, soprano and alumna; Jordan de Souza, conductor; and the evening’s conductor Natalie Murray Beale.
Mole currently studies with John Evans on the Opera Course at Guildhall School of Music & Drama where he recently gained BMus in Vocal Studies.
Such competitions are ever more important to highlight. Like the Bicentenary Prize at the Royal Academy of Music in a couple of weeks’ time, and various prizes at the Royal College and other conservatoires, prizes are the calling card for higher education establishments and the work their teaching staff do to develop the next generation of musical talent. One look at the competition alumni for the Gold Medal demonstrates that point. Jacqueline du Pre (cello), Simon Smith (violin), Susan Bickley, Bryn Terfel, Ashley Fripp, and Oliver Waas to pick out a few have all received the award. More are listed in this year’s Gold Medal programme.
Now more than ever is the time to reflect on the contribution higher education has on developing this new talent and, making the UK a location of artistic excellence. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s ridiculous plan to implement a 50% cut in higher education funding for arts subjects threatens that hard-fought reputation for artistic excellence.
In short, Tom Mole’s mastery isn’t a fluke or magic. His win is evidence of what we risk losing if higher education funding is cut.
Composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad has penned a short piece in tribute to violinist Corrine Chapelle who died from cancer in March of this year. Corrine’s Song has been recorded in isolation by Menuhin School alumni including Nicola Benedetti, Alina Ibragimova and Alexander Sitkovetsky.
In February 2021, news broke that Grammy-nominated violinist Corinne Chapelle had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Friends rallied round to raise funds for a course of treatment in Germany, unavailable in the UK. Their efforts raised £171,000. Corinne died in March before the treatment could be completed. She is survived by her partner and six year old daughter Leila.
Described as ‘one of the most promising talents of her generation’ by Yehudi Menuhin, Corinne attended the Yehudi Menuhin School from the age of 16. As soon as her friends knew of Corinne’s illness, a large group of alumni, led by pianist Hyung-ki Joo, gathered together virtually in order to brainstorm how the huge sum for Corinne’s treatment might be raised. One idea, proposed by composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, was near to completion when the news of Corinne’s death was announced. The alumni decided nevertheless to complete Corinne’s Song, an original piece of music for string orchestra.
It’s a heartfelt musical tribute that tugs at the heartstrings whilst keeping sentimentality at bay. In addition to the painful story the composition represents, there’s also a powerful statement about how musicians unite in a shared goal. There is community to be found in the videography, a demonstration of yet another way that music drives unity and promotes empathy. Much-needed right now.
Audio-mixing by Emmy-nominated composer Halli Cauthery, video-editing by Deniz Kavalali, creative direction by Oli Langford and creative production by Hyung-ki Joo.
Acknowledging the audience’s role in helping create an electrifying classical experience
You may not have heard of through the noise. It’s a new crowdfunding platform specifically built for live classical noisenights events, trialling with a couple of events, one in July featuring Laura van der Heijden and Max Baille; the other with members of Chineke! in August.
A glimpse at the website this morning shows how through the noise creators Jack Bazalgette and Jack Crozier have deftly positioned the brand for the audience they’re looking to target.
First, it’s hosted in a club space in the heart of Hoxton famed for nights curated by people I’ve literally no idea about because I’m twenty years too old. The performers are referred by their first names. Performances are referred to as ‘sets’. And the last set has a bonus late performance thrown in too.
The call-to-action is evocative – ‘back this event’. Audience members are being invited to invest in an ocassion (even if the button to back the event also includes ‘get tickets’).
“We propose ideas for concerts, where the venue, artist dates and everything’s secured,” says Jack Bazalgette when I speak to him early last week. “Then we check it out there and see what happens. I mean, we intend for everything to actually happen. We intend for every concert we propose to happen. But should there be a less than great response, we wouldn’t just put on a bad concert with a 50% attendance. We want all our concerts to be amazing.”
The difference here for me is the importance of the audience creating the atmosphere as well as the musicians themselves. through the noise wants to shift the expectation from the performer to the audience member, empowering the audience to create the audience.
Standing at the front of the venue will demand an £8 investment, seated at the back for £10, with ‘premium’ table and chairs at the front for £22. Drinks on top of that. That makes a night out with live music in a cabaret-style space something in the region of £60-65 for two people if you want a premium seat., £32 if the pair of you are happy to stand. The Laura/Max event is at the point of launch 43% funded.
“I think people feeling like they can see how much backing a concert has got in real-time,” adds Jack. “We want them to feel like when they buy a ticket, when they back it, they’re getting more than just getting their seat to watch the thing that’s already happening. They’re sort of part of making it happen. This potentially has a positive impact on the event itself, influencing the atmosphere of those concerts by bringing together a group of people audience and performers who are invested in it.”
It’s an interesting idea. Ticket-buying but not ticket-buying. A subtle shift in thinking, a modest change in marketing in order to reach out to a different (additional) audience, reminscent of the the OAE Night Shift gigs. The apparent simplicity of the change reminds me learning about David le Page and Orchestra of the Swan’s words and music digital streams, an idea in development prior to lockdown in March 2020.
I ask Jack about where the idea for noisenights had originated.
“We’ve been talking to lots of musicians about ways that we might sort of get into helping the music industry in one way or another. We’d had lots of ideas before lockdown but nothing really solid. Then lockdown happened, and we thought that this was our time to germinate a plan. We spoke to musicians about what they’d be willing to do. And I think it’s gone through a lot of different permuations.
“I suppose it’s just over a year of conversations and talking to loads of people about what they think would work. This is the one so far, seems to make the most sense. We’re just on a mission, really to get as many people going to concerts and enjoying them, and to help make our industry a success. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll do something else.”
“I think we need to get people talking about classical music at the moment,” says Jack. “We need them to talk about it before it actually gets underway. We need to get as much press for classical music as possible. And we need to get that message beyond the classical music network.”
“What matters most to me is, is the actual concerts, the music that’s played in them how good the music is, and what the experience of listening to music is like that and getting the audience in to have that experience. That’s what I care about.”
Through the Noise is gently shifting the responsibility for an electrifying classical experience onto the audience with their noisenight crowdfunding project. A very interesting prospect brought about by the smallest of changes. One to keep an eye on.
Percussionist Fang Zhang has secured the 2020 BBC Young Musician title
17-year-old percussionist Zhang was born in China’s Henan province and is a recent student of Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester.
The final (along with the semi-final recorded last year but broadcast on Friday) was impressive. A musically strong programme, horn player Annemarie Federle playing Ruth Gipps: Horn Concerto , Op. 58 was an entrancing introduction to a work I’d not heard before, while Ewan Millers performance of Oscar Navarro’s “Legacy” Concerto with its cinematic vibe (whilst still making for a demanding play for the soloist) made for a theatrical conclusion to proceedings.
The winner was, perhaps, easy to spot. Even in the semi-final. Zhang plays with a remarkable assurance that belies his seventeen years.
Perhaps more importantly, the broadcast messaging was reassuring. Previous winner oboist Nicholas Daniel reinforced the importance of live music. Jess Gillam provided a heartfelt sincere perspective that validated a genre that often gets short shrift from cynical types. Anna Lapwood shone without comprising on knowledge and experience.
Those who compete in BBC Young Musician are at the beginning of their development. One of the finalists is first year at the Royal Academy of Music. We celebrate these marvellous musicians, but we do so with caution: the Government doesn’t acknowledge the importance of music education at any level.
Will there be another BBC Young Musician competition. Yes. Will it be tougher for the next winner: undoubtedly. We owe it to all of the participants past, present and future to change that.
Alfonso Leal del Ojo, CEO of The English Concert reflects on his role as a player-manager in a guest blog for Thoroughly Good
As a player-manager, my journey in the performing arts has probably been slightly unconventional, although by no means unique. I started filling a gap at the Irish Baroque Orchestra in 2007. I led the Dunedin Consort during tremendous growth between 2010 until 2019, when I took on my current role at The English Concert.
There are some notable examples of successful musicians that have made a career as managers; Clive Gillinson (Carnegie Hall), Marshall Marcus (European Union Youth Orchestra), Alasdair Tait (YCAT), Julia Desbruslais (London Mozart Players), Giulio d’Alessio (Il Pomo d’Oro) and others.
Non-player managers have the same passion for the art form as those that have been successful as musicians. What differentiates us is that we have known for longer and in closer quarters what players tend to think about managers which at times can be negative. I have been playing with The English Concert as principal viola since 2007, so when I joined as chief executive, I knew the group well, its people, our audience and supporters. I have continued performing alongside my management career, and I think that being on stage with my colleagues has allowed me to forge a more trusting relationship with them than would otherwise have been possible.
Sometimes, they will disagree with me, it’s only natural, but I would like to think that fundamentally, they understand more readily that I have their best interests at heart and that I am doing my best for the success of The English Concert as a whole. This has been particularly important in the context of what we have all lived through since March last year.
There has been so much upheaval for all of us working in the performing arts. Working in the current environment has been a constant battle, hours of planning and coming up with contingency plans, finding out that the contingency plans were not even close to meet our worst expectations, replanning again and finally, sometimes, being able to come above the parapet and present some work.
When I joined in as Chief Executive, I wanted to ensure the live performances that were reaching thousands of people on tour remained alive for longer, and those that could not make it to the concert hall could experience some of the magic and put in place a strategy to record our Handel operas (either in video or commercial recording).
In March 2019, we should have toured Handel’s Rodelinda to the USA, Europe, and the UK, but it could not be, so I am particularly pleased we could rescue the recording plans, which will see the light of day later this month.
Last month we were meant to tour and record Handel’s Tamerlano. All performances we had planned were cancelled one by one, but I kept pushing to ensure the scheduled recording could happen. Unfortunately, strict quarantine rules for non-UK based artists meant some of our soloists were unable to join us, and with one of them contracting the virus just before we were about to start, the project could not move forward.
What could we do? We owed it to our musicians to support them financially and maintain our sense of purpose, but equally to our audience and to our donors who had very generously supported our plans. Earlier in March, Lady Linda Davies from the KT Wong Foundation had approached us to film Handel’s La Resurrezione for Sky Arts. There was something especially poignant about recording a piece of music that spoke of resurrection after the performing arts had experienced such a devastating loss.
Tamerlano was off the table, but discovering La Resurrezione left us wanting to explore the piece in more depth. The constraints of TV production meant we had had to cut the piece, so here we had our opportunity to work on the piece in full. We had to make some changes to the cast to honour our commitment to the artists we had booked for Tamerlano, but the decision felt right.
There have been various moments in my career when, as a performer, I have felt we were creating something exceptional. These last few weeks of being involved in La Resurrezione have felt that way, and I am sure that the recording will capture some of the extraordinary excitement we all felt.
I have been very fortunate to have experienced some wonderful moments on stage with my colleagues. In 2017, at the last performance of our tour of Ariodante at Carnegie Hall, after the second break (already three hours into the concert!), we came on stage before Harry and the soloists, and the audience went wild for the orchestra. It made me feel so proud!
Of course, the soloists were exceptional and the music stunning, but it was very special to be on stage. I certainly didn’t envisage when I was an awkward teenager living in Seville, buying CDs of all these fantastic musicians that I would end up doing just that, let alone running one of the most celebrated chamber orchestras in the world.
SKY ARTS and the KT Wong Foundation present a brand-new production of Handel’s rarely performed sacred oratorio – La Resurrezione broadcast on Sky Arts on Monday 3 May at 7pm.
Handel’s Rodelinda is released on 14 May and is the first Handel title The English Concert is releasing as part of its association with Linn Records.