Verbier Festival changes its opening night

The Verbier Festival announced earlier today that its first-night concert has changed with the Verbier Festival Orchestra replaced by the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. Soloist Denis Matsuev and conductor Valery Gergiev remain at the top of the bill. Trumpeter Timur Martynov joins for the concerts too.

The change ahead of the 16th July opening night is because a ‘small number’ of VFO musicians have tested positive for Covid-19 during rehearsals. Those in contact with those who have tested positive have themselves been placed in quarantine.

On the face of it such an announcement may not necessarily seem like a massive deal – just a reduction in numbers and a change of programme. But that change of orchestra highlights the precariousness of live performance right now, and represents money spent bringing together a symphony orchestra from across the world amid challenging travel restrictions, housing them, feeding them, and testing them.

The Verbier Festival Orchestra is a training orchestra for young musicians aged between 18 and 28. The last VFO concert I saw in 2019 was Schumann’s second symphony. A mammoth band and a good one too. That the programme has had to change to something smaller-scaled (Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony) demonstrates the impact the coronavirus is still having.

The Festival said earlier on today, “The Festival’s safety protocols, developed in partnership with medical experts and approved by the Canton of Valais, have ensured that its team was prepared for the possibility of the reappearance of the Covid-19 virus. Its Protection Plan was activated to stop the spread of the virus, which led to this change to the Festival’s opening night programme.”

The 28th Verbier Festival is supported by public and private funders, including Madame Aline Foriel-Destezet, The Friends of the Verbier Festival, the Festival’s major donors, including its Chairman’s Circle, the Commune de Val de Bagnes, Loterie Romande, Canton du Valais, and its loyal Principal Sponsors, Bank Julius Baer and Neva Foundation.

Read blog posts about Verbier Festival 2019

Restrictions might be lifting on 19th July but things are from clear, according to the RPO

News that COVID restrictions will be eased across England on 19 July is undoubtedly good to hear. The bookending of this painful period symbolised by the removal of mandatory mask-wearing and greater freedom in the hospitality sector gives a sense of uplift. Renewal. Recovery.

Be wary of getting carried away however. Arriving in my (and countless other journos) inbox as soon as the Prime Minister made his announcement was this comment from James Williams, the MD of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:

“Whilst the Government’s announcement advising that Covid restrictions will be lifted from 19 July gives us all the sense of hope we need, to date the Government has failed to provide the performing arts with a sustainable operational roadmap that will ensure the economic viability of performances and the safety of venues, artists and audiences.

“There is an important task to be done rebuilding public confidence and providing the necessary reassurance that returning to the concert hall and the enjoyment of live performances can be done safely. This requires from Government a robust roadmap that sets out a transition from socially-distanced concerts to full-capacity events based on clear criteria, risk management protocols and meaningful, shared data from the Events Research Programme.

“Economically, venues and ensembles need full-capacity concerts, but the transition must be operationally and economically sustainable; the return to another lockdown in the autumn would be catastrophic for the sector. 

“The RPO is fully committed to playing its part in the ‘building back’ that lies ahead, including enriching lives and supporting wellbeing after numerous lockdowns. But to be viable the economic sustainability of our work depends upon audiences and performers being safe in the concert hall.”

Restrictions are not over until all parts of the economy are able to function in the way they were before the pandemic hit.

What BBC Proms concerts are on TV in 2021?

The BBC has announced which of this year’s Prom concerts will be broadcast on TV. The season starts on Friday 30 July and finishes with the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday 11 December. Twenty concerts will be broadcast across BBC One, BBC Two, and BBC Four.

Every Prom concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and via the BBC Sounds app.

Friday 30 July

First Night Of The Proms
Part one is broadcast on BBC Two (8pm). Part two is broadcast on BBC Four (9pm).

Read more about tonight’s music in All You Need to Know: Vaughan Williams, Poulenc and Sibelius
Katie Derham
Sunday 1 AugustScottish Chamber Orchestra/ Maxim Emelyanychev BBC Four, 8:30pm

Read more about tonight’s music in All You Need to Know: Mozart Symphonies 39, 40, and 41
Tom Service
Thursday 5 AugustCity of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla BBC Four, 8pmPetroc Trelawny
Friday 6 AugustBBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Elim Chan with Sol GabettaBBC Four, 7pmSuzy Klein
Saturday 7 AugustThe Golden Age of Broadway BBC Two, time TBCKatie Derham
Sunday 8 AugustNational Youth Orchestra/ Jonathon Heyward with Nicola BenedettiBBC Four, 7pmJess Gillam
Friday 13 AugustAurora Orchestra/ Nicholas Collon BBC Four, 7pmTom Service
Sunday 15 AugustPhilharmonia Orchestra/ Santtu- Matias Rouvali with Víkingur Ólafsson
BBC Four, 7pm
Josie d’Arby
Thursday 19 AugustOpera Gala: To Soothe the Aching Heart BBC Four, 7pmPetroc Trelawny
Friday 20 AugustNubya Garcia
BBC Four, 7pm
Clive Myrie
Sunday 22 AugustLondon Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle BBC Four, 8pmSuzy Klein
Thursday 26 AugustChineke! / Kalena Bovell with Jeneba Kanneh-Mason BBC Four, time TBCTom Service
Friday 27 AugustAcademy of St Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell BBC Four, 7pmJosie d’Arby 
Sunday 29 AugustCarnival of the Animals with the Kanneh-Mason Family and Michael Morpurgo
BBC Four, 8pm
Katie Derham
Thursday 2 SeptemberBBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Ilan Volkov with Lucy Crowe
BBC Four, 7pm
Jess Gillam
Friday 3 SeptemberMoses Sumney meets Jules Buckley and the BBC Symphony OrchestraBBC Four, time TBCClara Amfo
Saturday 4 SeptemberCarnival of the Animals with the Kanneh-Mason Family and Michael Morpurgo
BBC Two, time TBC
Katie Derham
Saturday 5 SeptemberEnglish Baroque Soloists/ Monteverdi Choir/ John Eliot Gardiner BBC Four, 7pmPetroc Trelawny
Thursday 9 SeptemberSinfonia of London/ John Wilson with Miah Persson BBC Four, 7pmSuzy Klein
Friday 10 SeptemberArcangelo and Jonathan Cohen in Bach’s St Matthew Passion BBC Four, 7pmAnna Lapwood
Saturday 11 SeptemberLast Night of the Proms BBC Two/ BBC One, time TBCKatie Derham

East Neuk Festival 2021 giant sand portrait announces new artist development residency

The East Neuk Festival in Scotland starts this week, and on its eve pictures have been released of eye-catching sand portraits drawn on Elie Beach.

The message is strong, reminding us of the impact of the pandemic on a generation of young musicians. ‘It’s time to let them play’ appears at the bottom of a picture etched into Ellie Beach in East Neuk.

Created and designed by Sand in Your Eye, the eye-catching beach art heralds the beginning of the East Neuk Festival which takes place in indoor and outdoor venues along the eastern stretch of Scotland’s coastline from Thursday to Sunday (1-4 July).

The portrait accompanies the ENF’s announcement regarding the latest ENF Retreat Residency to be undertaken by young jazz composer, vocalist and storyteller Nishla Smith. She partners with scientists from St Andrews University’s School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, to develop a song cycle called ‘Aether’ for voice and improvising ensemble exploring impacts of the climate crisis across different environmental settings.

With ENF events staged socially-distanced this year all of the live events featuring artists including pianist Paul Lewis, the Castalian Quartet, violinist Benjamin Baker, pianist Daniel Lebhardt, and Gramophone award-winning guitarist Sean Shibe, are already sold out. Pop-up outdoor live events are also scheduled to make appearance across the four days however. Festival organisers will share event details on social media.

Manchester Collective and Multi Story Orchestra team up with Southbank Centre for 2021/2022

It seems utterly incredible to be even considering a 2021/2022 season.

On Saturday I heard a friend and also a colleague worry about the possibility that there would be some kind of stipulation placed on the 19th July easing of restrictions. Like them, I look on the new Health Secretary’s promises with a degree of optimism. The 19th July like 21 June seems like such an arbritary date, based not on the prevalence of transmissable virus, rather the total number of those vaccinated. Whose to say that date won’t move?

Still. September 2021 seems long enough away to imagine of non-socially distanced audiences, an open members bar, and casual non-directed toing and froing in the Festival Hall foyer. Maybe. Just maybe. It might just happen. Just beyond the summer.

The Southbank Centre are previewing their forthcoming non-distanced season with some impressive new partnerships too. The Multi-Storey Orchestra now move from Peckham to Waterloo. I’m also really pleased to see Manchester Collective having secured a place in the Southbank Centre’s ongoing line-up. A good programming match.

Edward Gardner and Santtu-Matias Rouvali have their first appearances in their respective roles as Principal Conductors of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra in September. Karina Canellakis debuts in her new titled position as Principal Guest Conductor of the LPO and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra comes with five special projects in partnership with the Southbank Centre under their new Music Director Vasily Petrenko.

And there’s the promise of the New Music Biennial in 2022 too.

BBC Radio 3 will be in residence for the opening week, and will broadcast Tippett’s rarely-performed The Midsummer Marriage;

Manchester Collective will appear at the Purcell Room (2 Oct & 3 Dec) and Queen Elizabeth Hall (24 Apr & 14 May) showcasing artists including Hannah Peel, Lyra Pramuk, Vessel and Abel Selaocoe.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Sebastian Comberti play a Bach Saint-Saens Mashup

One of the unexpected highlights during the London Mozart Players Croydon concert with Sheku Kanneh-Mason was a touching arrangement of The Swan from Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, and the opening movement of Bach’s G Major cello suite.

The duet was played as an encore after Sheku’s performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

Now the London Mozart Players have released a separate recording of the duet as a YouTube Premiere, to launch their online Spotlight On Series – concerto performances with new generation performers including Jess Gillam, and Isata Kanneh-Mason. Fourteen year-old d Leia-Zhu also appears in the line-up later this year with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

The films will be available to watch for 30 days from first broadcast via the LMP website, with individual concert tickets (per household) at £10.

A 4-concert package is also available until 24 July: £30 (four concerts for the price of three). The films can be watched anywhere in the world where there is Internet access.

The series has been filmed and edited by Simon Weir at Classical Media.

Discover more about Spotlight On via the LMP website.

Sitkovetsky Trio’s new album release previewed with an animation by Pavel Hudec

The Sitkovetsky Trio have a new album out this coming Friday including a recording of the Ravel Piano Trio. They’ve commissioned animator Pavel Hudec.

The Journey of the Pantoum: shows some of the events surrounding the creation of the Ravel Piano Trio in A minor, and the influences that Ravel was inspired by, his Basque roots and the rush to finish the piece as World War 1 drew nearer. Various characters appear throughout the film, including the Sitkovetsky Trio at Theater Chatelet. 

An impressive creation that draws the eye.

Sitkovetsky Piano Trio’s Ravel Piano Trio is released by BIS on Friday 2 July.

Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky appeared on the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast back in 2019. Find the podcast on Spotify and Audioboom.

YCAT announces twelve new artists for 2021

The Young Classical Artists Trust has announced twelve musicians to its sought-after roster of young artists.

Seven artists were selected through YCAT’s rigorous audition process from a highly competitive field of 150 applicants:

Adelphi Quartet (string quartet)
Quatuor Agate (string quartet)
Armand Djikoloum (oboe)
Irène Duval (violin)
Ariel Lanyi (piano)
Charlotte Saluste-Bridoux (violin)
Iyad Sughayer (piano)

In addition, young artist agency will represent five shared artists with Concert Artists Guild in the USA, including:

Jordan Bak (viola)
Balourdet String Quartet (string quartet)
Chromic Duo (toy piano/electronic duo)
Geneva Lewis (violin)
Gabriel Martins (cello)

All twelve get the benefit of YCAT’s support services, providing access to performing activities, plus promotional work too.

Names to keep an eye out for.

BBC Proms 2021 season announced

A smaller season for in-person audiences with a heavy focus on the British music scene, one international orchestra, and a celebration of the music of Stravinsky and Saint-Saens

I feel for Proms Director David Pickard. Being the BBC Proms chief is a tough job in itself. Managing the programming challenge that is the BBC Proms, planning for the impact Brexit would have on the season’s visiting bands, and then having to respond to the challenges of COVID and the ban on large gatherings, is the kind of job description you’d probably steer clear of if you saw it advertised. Still, Pickard and his team have done an OK job in massively challenging times.

Organist Anna Lapwood makes her performing debut at the BBC Proms on my birthday

52 concerts (down 23 concerts from the 2019 season) over 44 days, this year’s season is a pragmatic response to travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, leaning heavily on the BBC’s orchestras and choirs, plus the Scottish Chamber, CBSO, Aurora, Philharmonia, LSO, and Arcangelo with Jonathan Cohen.

With performers Nicola Benedetti, Benjamin Grosvenor, Steven Isserlis, Roderick WIlliams and Sir John Eliot Gardiner, newcomers to the classical music scene will get a snapshot of some of the key performing talent that makes up the sector. It’s also great to see Manchester Collective take to the stage in the season, as well as new works from composers Charlotte Bray and Daniel Kidane.

The Kanneh-Mason’s bring their charming collaboration with former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpugo combining Camille Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals original score with Morpugo’s new poems. The press release doesn’t mention Olivia Colman (who appears on the Decca release from earlier this year) which suggests she won’t be making an appearance. Or maybe she will and they’re holding that little surprise back.

Writing this I’m mindful of the digs the Proms team will get for the season. In the culture war that this and other large scale festivals are often prone to, expect to see people point to this year’s season as evidence of dumbing down, a lack of ambition, yet another reason as to why the BBC should be defunded. And yet, there’s evidence here of making the very best of a phenomenally difficult situation.

Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason

We’re all assuming, for example, that at midnight on 21 June the world will suddenly return to normal: audiences will be flocking to the Royal Albert Hall, that travel restrictions will have been lifted, and that come the Last NIght of the Proms DCMS will have revised their ruling on having no more than 6 people singing indoors. This year’s season is risky business. The revenue stream is unpredictable. The BBC is strapped for cash. Little wonder its a reduced season.

It may seem a little early to say this given that ticket sales don’t open until Saturday 26 June, but in my mind it’s next year’s season we need to focus on. What will that be like? WIll it be the same length? Will there more or the same number of international orchestras? This year COVID is casting shadow on the challenges to the music world brought on by Brexit. And that’s important because of the important role the Proms plays in highlighting classical music in the UK. Bringing the Proms back post-COVID is an achievement. Safeguarding it’s place in the cultural landscape of the UK is the even bigger challenge. An uneviable one.

Full listings for this years season in the BBC Proms website.

Winners at the International Opera Awards 2021

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.

Metropolitan Opera

Kirill Petrenko

Małgorzata Szczęśniak

Robert Carsen

Birmingham Opera Company

Lise Davidsen

Salzburg Festival

LEADERSHIP sponsored by the Good Governance Institute
David Pountney

Bernard Haitink

Javier Camarena

Tale of Tsar Saltan (Tcherniakov, La Monnaie De Munt)

Alpesh Chauhan

Teatro Real, Madrid

Denyce Graves

Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich

Martina Arroyo Foundation

Jakub Józef Orliński: Facce d’amore (Erato)

Thomas: Hamlet (Naxos) [DVD]

Jamie Barton

Moniuszko: Paria (Teatr Wielki, Poznań)

Glanert: Oceane (Deutsche Oper, Berlin)

YOUNG SINGER sponsored by Mazars
Xabier Anduaga
Vasilisa Berzhanskaya