Look out for the Philharmonia at Cutty Sark on Apple Music

Oliver Zeffman conducted the Philharmonia and mezzo Dame Sarah Connolly in a filmed performance destined for streaming platforms last night, concluding the ‘Music x Museums’ series underneath the hull of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

The performance was part of a series of live recordings released on Apple Music (to watch and listen to) and eventually to stream on Spotify too.

Acoustically the 19th-century tea clipper now homed in Greenwich didn’t disappoint. The polished hull cut an impressive line through the narrow audience space underneath which members of the Philharmonia charted a course through evocative music by Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and Grace Williams.

I’m noticing more and more outings for the Sea Sketches in recent years. I see a link to the work of Dr Sophie Fuller from Trinity Laban a few years back who I spoke to about the Venus Rising project back in 2018 (listen to the podcast interview with Dr Sophie Fuller on Anchor).

I had assumed it was because of Venus Rising and similar projects that Williams ravishing score for string ensemble was seeing more light. What I discovered last night browsing through the first Proms brochure I bought back in 1991, was that Williams Sea Sketches was performed back in the year I first went to the Proms – the first time it appeared at the festival, forty-five years after it was written.

A pupil of Vaughan Williams, Williams score has a distinctive musical language setting her apart from the folk tune-infused music of her teacher. There are some beautifully heart-tuggingly lush sequences in Calm Sea in Summer that hint at the music of Peter Warlock and even reference bits of Britten’s language too.

Dame Sarah Connolly shimmered in a scaly dress made up of coral blues and greens (that’s about as far as this privileged white middle-aged male is going to go in describing an outfit) during Elgar’s Sea Pictures, gracefully riding the waves in Elgar’s sonorous score. I’ve been listening to Sea Pictures on repeat all day since.

The Cutty Sark is a surprisingly good venue, somewhere that has a considerable impact on arrival, and is served by attentive bar staff. Acoustically it works too. And whilst I know this was an event for filming purposes with supporting organisation Viking Cruises necessarily selling their wares, I’m wondering why the venue isn’t used more for live events, especially if seating could be made available at the elevated side positions too.

Keep an eye out on Apple Music for the performance in full. Music x Museum’s previous performance at the V&A with Victoria Mullova is available to watch and listen to now.

📷 Matthew Johnson