Aldeburgh Festival premieres ‘Violet’ by Tom Coult and Alice Birch

Gripping, bleak, and thought-provoking

The Aldeburgh Festival got underway on Friday 3 June at Snape Maltings Concert Hall with the premiere of Tom Coult and Alice Birch’s opera ‘Violet’.

The apocalyptic tale documented the gradual disintegration of human life as a town and its inhabitants slowly come to realise how time is gradually, hour by hour, day by day, slipping away from them.

Set against an animated backdrop of constantly, the small company led by Anna Dennis in the title role. Richard Burkhard played Felix, Frances Gregory Laura, and Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks The Clock Keeper.

Richard Burkhard as Felix and Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks (right) as The Clockkeeper (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Cohesive costume and set design by Cecile Tremolieres and Rosie Elnile gave the drama an Elizabethan feel with judicious use of trestle tables, ruffs, and tankards.

It was a compelling watch in part down to the manually updated display board documenting the days completed and hours lost, building tension and driving towards the world’s inevitable end. Composer Tom Coult’s characteristically inventive and descriptive score, played by the London Sinfonietta and conducted by Andrew Gourlay, sustained a sinister air throughout the 90-minute production.

In particular, the extensive use of pizzicato bass and low bass clarinet by Coult was a pleasing addition to an already rich and inventive score, reminiscent of Dudley Simpson’s resourceful use of chamber ensemble in his Doctor Who TV music scores in the mid-70s.

Anna Dennis as Violet (Photo: Marc Brenner)

I was particularly impressed with the concision in Coult’s writing. Driven partly by the libretto, itself a reflection of the story, there is an immediacy to the composer’s musical ideas that drives focus in the audience. At the same time, the music maintains originality and integrity throughout. It is a remarkable balancing act that serves the storytelling.

Its most potent storytelling twist was the outlying conceit: we know what’s going to happen at the end of the story long before most of the characters do by virtue of the display visible to all from the stage. Yet, as the realisation grows amongst the inhabitants, so the sense that this story needs to slow down because of the characters impending demise. That same sense of tension is present in Tom Coult’s music.

Frances Gregory as Laura (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Violet’s depression, driven by the regularity of the clock, slowly turns to hope for the central character as time is lost and society disintegrates. The conclusion is bleak and appropriately ambiguous, though the epilogue – a concluding animated sequence depicting computer-generated characters – jarred stylistically. I need to think further on what was being said in the epilogue.

What I liked most was the work’s efficiency (driven no doubt by the relentless loss of time the inhabitants of the town are experiencing themselves). It was that efficiency that helped make the production a compelling watch.

Anna Dennis possesses a magical voice – clear, distinct, rounded, and warm. She made light work of Coult many high notes and intricate melodic lines.

The co-production between Britten-Pears Arts and Music Theatre Wales was originally scheduled for premiere at the 2020 Aldeburgh Festival but was postponed due to the COVID pandemic.

‘Violet’ continues at the Aldeburgh Festival on 5th June (tickets from £10). There are performances at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff (8 June), Theatr Clwyd, Mold (19 June), Hackney Empire, London (23 June), and Buxton International Festival (18 July). It is a must-see.

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival immerses its audience in the must-have intimate experience

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival isn’t daring to present classical music in a new way. It doesn’t need to. Sheffield started presenting things in a new way 38 years ago.

6 minute read

The Sheffield Chamber Music Festival got underway last weekend, opening at the city’s legendary Theatre Studio at the Crucible.

Produced by Sheffield’s Music in the Round, the 9 days of concerts curated by composer Helen Grime consist of a bold range of contemporary works paired with ever-popular core repertoire.

What was programmed in Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2022?

Across the opening weekend, audiences were treated to pieces by Janacek, Martinu, Anna Meredith, John Cage, Helen Grime and Huw Watkins, alongside Dvorak, Chopin, Haydn and Beethoven.

In amongst the 20 date programme are visiting artists Ruby Hughes, Joseph Middleton, and guitarist Sean Shibe, the 15 remaining musical events the responsibility of a core group of players – Music in the Round’s Ensemble 360.

Such a schedule combined with a varied repertoire to prepare for – some of it familiar to each musician, the contemporary music potentially less so – seems like a big ask. That’s reflected in the care taken to protect each player’s free time in between performances by the management of the band. I get to speak to cellist Gemma for around 10 minutes before she needs to escape for her lunch in between performances of Izzy Gizmo – an endearing animated story for primary schoolers and below accompanied by live music scored for quintet and stripped back wind.

How does Sheffield Chamber Ensemble present its performances?

It’s partly perhaps the demanding schedule that drives the energy in performance. There is also a sense it’s Music in the Round and Ensemble 360’s trademark concert presentation style – live chamber music experienced by audience members sitting in a circle around the ensemble – that also ramps up the tension and delivers something either exhilarating or intensely intimate.

“We want you to feel what we’re feeling,” says Gemma when I ask her about the experience of having the audience sat so closely to and all around the players. “When you’re sitting in the round like that it’s as though the audience is with us [the players] rather than looking at us.” Sitting in the Crucible Studio Theatre with its raked seating and two tiers of additional seats above with stage lights illuminating the central performance areas, there are times when it feels to me as though we’re students observing a surgical operation.

What’s the atmosphere like in Ensemble 360’s concerts?

“Not painful, I hope?” asks Gemma. “When we arrive in the studio the atmosphere is electric, and that doesn’t usually happen until you’re surrounding us in that way. The feeling we get is that the audience is surrounding us. But sat in the round, we’re all facing each other. When you’re playing in something like a string quartet that is an incredibly intimate style of music-making.”

The intimacy is appealing. Being sat directly behind Gemma during the Dvorak Piano Quartet on the first night, I felt I was in amongst the action as though I was a player myself battling my way through the wild and furious writing the composer packs into so much of the work.

So too during the Sunrise concert at Samuel Worth Chapel. Here following an uncharacteristically early start for me, I get a sense of what being a string player creating chamber music must be like. And, at 5.15am it’s the first experience of that particular day. There’s good reason why wannabee writers are encouraged to auto-write minutes after they wake up – this is when the mind is at its most undistracted. The proximity of the instrumentalists combined with my sleep-deprived but otherwise attentive brain made this a deeply moving experience.

Music in the Round’s events that the audience’s and the attention to the sensory experience that it is the audience that is the priority. That’s different from merely putting on a programme and hoping people will come along. This is about crafting an experience for the audience to immerse themselves in.

Most obviously this is in the way the audience seems to wrap around the audience, but also in the confident programming. It takes a certain kind of person to propose a crack-of-dawn concert, and a particular kind of production team and trustees to allow it to happen.

That the Sunrise concert was sold out was perhaps not surprising – there was only space for 65 people. But every single person had made a higher than normal commitment to be there meaning the intensity of the experience was greater. We were the hard-core. The ones who made an extra special effort to be here. This was A Proper Festival and we were Proper Festivalgoers.

Music in the Round’s distinctiveness goes beyond the immersive listening experience. It’s committed to bold programming. This isn’t an urban classical music festival catering for a specific demographic who smell of lavender talc and mouldy hymn books. Curated by composer Helen Grime, this year’s Festival combines familiar works with challenging new music. The energy it exudes is exciting.

Anna Meredith’s Tripotage

On the first night a highly inventive and cohesive work from Anna Meredith – Tripotage – creates evocative vignettes with unconventional instrumental combinations. piccolo and double Bass creates an eerie Far East feel. ‘Buzzard’ played by viola and violin is especially compelling with a short motive ‘squawked’ on the viola at ever increasing intervals.

Helen Grime introduces her music at Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2022

Music by Helen Grime features in the second night concert, alongside Cage, and Huw Watkins. The new and unfamiliar works (in this programme the Cage appears almost mainstream in the way it unexpectedly establishes a tranquil state) challenge and stretch. By the time we arrive at the Dvorak in the second half, I hear the familiar romantic language in the Piano Quartet with new ears. In this space the experience is not unlike doing an intense gym workout followed by some time in a steam room.

This approach isn’t new nor confined to Sheffield. But there is a sense the audience is more than just tolerating the unfamiliar as some kind of purgatory before the work they really came for. Nearly all of the seats are occupied and the applause is hearty after each work. Perhaps the audience comes to Music in the Round events not only expecting to be challenged but wanting to be with a range of thought-provoking works.

Edward Mackay, Head of Programmes, Music in the Round

“It’s got Helens very definite fingerprints, her enthusiasms, her relationships all over it,” says Edward Mackay, Music in the Round’s Programme Manager. “That’s what’s exciting about working with her. It feels like it’s an evolution of what we do. We’ve always been champions of new music. I think the balance is different this year, and there is more of it than they would otherwise be.”

Who are the curators for future Sheffield Chamber Music Festivals?

In the years to come Kathryn Stott and Steven Isserlis are scheduled to curate, bringing their own distinctive choices to each successive festival and a marketing challenge to the small nimble team. How does Music in the Round ensure that distinctive edge and ensure audience appetite.

“That intimacy and familiarity brings about a family feeling,” says Edward. “That means we get very honest and very direct feedback from our audience, if they don’t like something we’re doing, they tell us if they do like it.”

Music in the Round’s Sheffield Chamber Music Festival featuring Ensemble 360 runs until Saturday 21 May 2022.  

Grosvenor plays Faure, Ravel, Schumann and Albeniz at Wigmore Hall

It seems incredible to me that pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is only thirty this year, and that’s its 18 year since his BBC Young Musician appearance.

This year has seen him artist in residence at Wigmore Hall building on a growing collection of recordings for Decca. He’s packed a lot in to a short space of time and it seems handled the pressure well.

There is maturity that has developed in his sound that builds on his early established calling card (see later in the post for an explanation). He does theatre at the keyboard without breaking a sweat. A remarkable sight.

In recital Grosvenor is an assertive player, drawing on remarkable reserves of power at a moments notice, helping him create epic dramatic contrasts whenever the score dictates. He conjures up a symphonic sound at the keyboard, contrasting vast sound worlds with tender moments that linger and occasions haunt. This ability to shift gear at a moments is one of the things that makes Grosvenor’s playing so very exciting, evident in Schumann’s Kreisleriana.

Albeniz’s Iberia has a more compelling musical story, making the first work of the second half perhaps the more satisfying listen.

Benjamin Grosvenor also has a trademark. I picked it out the first time I heard (sat in the gallery at the BBC Proms maybe fifteen years back) and it was on full display reliable and consistent as ever in Ravel’s Jeux l’eau and La Valse. In both pieces it is the fluidity in his scales snd arpeggios that really take my breath away. They’re smooth, dynamic, and supple. Musical acrobatics.

All this whilst maintaining a mild-mannered physicality at the keyboard. Perhaps the oddest thing is the way when he playing at his most expansive, his music makes me smile with pride as though I’ve somehow created myself.

A top night at Wigmore Hall.

Brilliant new music from Phibbs, Pritchard, and Kidane at Music at Malling

NB I attended the last two of the day’s concerts and have written about only those works I heard in full.

Music at Malling Festival Artistic Director Thomas Kemp, harpsichordist Steven Devine and Chamber Domaine premiered six new pieces last weekend responding to Bach Brandenburg’s six concertos.

The new works were written by Joseph Phibbs, Deborah Pritchard, Daniel Kidane, Stevie Wishart, Michael Price and Brian Elias.

(picture: Tom Bowles)

The premieres featured in an afternoon’s worth of concerts staged at the St Mary’s Abbey Church, each piece paired with one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, utilising the same instrumentation.

Many of the new pieces made reference to the defining characteristics of Bach’s writing that makes the Brandenburgs so very loved.

There were obvious references in the works I heard like direct quotations in Stevie Wishart’s piece, or the way Daniel Kidane utilised the ‘echo flutes’ underpinning a repeating rhythmic cell in the final movement of his Concerto Grosso.

Deborah Pritchard’s uplifting Illuminations were the most immediate, opening with a waterfall of sound that engaged the senses and elevated the heart rate.

Joseph Phibbs (picture Tom Bowles)

Like Illuminations, Joseph Phibbs’ work Bach Shadows was concise and compelling. Entertaining throughout, the piece picked up on rhythm and texture. The second slow movement contained Phibbs’s trademark tension building writing for strings. If you’re unfamiliar, be sure to listen to the second movement of his epic Clarinet Concerto on Signum.

I enjoyed the format of proceedings. There was a pleasing simplicity to what was on offer that focussed my thinking and helped me identify detail in the writing of Bach and the modern-day composer. There was a sense of community too in the bright airy interior of St Mary’s Abbey Church. Perhaps most pleasing of all was hearing a range of different contemporary musical languages. There wasn’t a sense of competition between them, rather an opportunity to compare and contrast.

Gabi Swallow (picture Tom Bowles)

A delightful afternoon with delightful people in a chocolate box town in mid-Kent. Big shout out to harpsichordist Steven Devine whose cadenza in Brandenburg 5 was truly rock and roll. Also ‘echo flutes’ Emma Murphy and Louise Bradbury whose contribution was as satisfying as the look on their faces when they received their well-earned applause.

NOYO: Life-affirming music from the world’s first disabled-led youth ensemble

National Open Youth Orchestra’s debut concert at Milton Court in London was a life-affirming reminder of the power of music-making

The world’s first disabled-led national youth ensemble performed at Milton Court in London earlier this evening with a mixed programme of new works and arrangements including music by players in the ensemble, Hans Zimmer, Vivaldi and Alexander Campkin.

According to Scope there are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK of which 8% are young people.

Members of the 25-strong National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO) introduced the programme from the stage including new music by harmonica and bass synthesizer player Oliver Cross, Alexander Campkin’s ‘What We Fear Then?’ – a co-commission between NOYO and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra).

The National Open Youth Orchestra was launched in 2018 intent on giving talented young disabled musicians a path into music–making. The ensemble brings together 11-25 year-old disabled and non-disabled musicians for a collaborative experience of rehearsals, performances and music creation. It’s programme of activities was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group’s performance at Milton Court was thought-provoking and life-affirming, a potent reminder for those of us considerably more privileged of the significant impact participatory music-making has and how often it is often taken for granted.

So much time is spent in the industry pondering how to create an appealing music entertainment experience for a younger audience – an able-bodied audience distracted by technology – whilst a significant proportion of disabled young people are excluded from even making music. Such performances as these staged to meet the needs of a neurodiverse audience, are vital for looking at music holistically rather than in terms of audience segments or ticket sales.

NOYO isn’t about just giving disabled musicians access to the stage on a Sunday afternoon. It’s about collaboration – bringing together individuals who can create music for and with one another. The rest of us look on and are reminded of why music-making is so very important a thing to advocate. In this way, NOYO is doing more than playing school-band arrangements of much-loved classics (it’s purposefully not doing that). It’s drawing on the talents of the ensemble’s members to create music for them (as opposed to for the audience).

Oliver Cross’s ‘Barriers’ was an articulation of the NOYO’s principles. Cross spoke of the impact the pandemic had on the disabled people and specifically the loss of composers Lucy Hale and Lyn Levett, after which we heard his work played by those who get all the benefits of participatory music-making by virtue of his own creative skills. Barriers displayed the musical influences of both Glass and Satie; the duet between horn (Georgina Spray) and harp (Holli Pandit) in its second movement was devastating. Shout out to the marvellous Oscar Abbot on vibes too.  

In Alexander Campkin’s ‘What Fear We Then?’ there was in the complex rhythmically driven music a reassuring sense of determination that drew on Steve Reich and maybe even a little bit of Anna Meredith. There was grit and urgency here. A rare kind of joyous celebration often absent from the concert hall space.

That the NOYO is the world’s first disabled-led youth ensemble is of course wonderful. There’s also a whiff of disappointment to be found. Why hasn’t this been done before? Why isn’t this already a thing? Why is writing about it necessary?

Baby steps first perhaps. Much of NOYO’s drive comes from the fact that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra led the way (just in time) before the pandemic with BSO Resound – the world’s first professional disable-led orchestra who appeared at the BBC Proms in 2018. And of course, the pandemic hasn’t helped. What’s necessary now is ensuring that the momentum (and therefore the funding that makes this wonderful project happen) isn’t lost.

The NOYO’s debut performance at Milton Court is a reminder of the basics. Participatory music-making is empowering, rewarding, and aspirational. It builds community and relationships. Most importantly of all, it offers the opportunity for achievement. An opportunity to be seen and heard.   

Jonathan Radford and Ashley Fripp perform music from The Saxophone Craze

Royal Over-Seas League Gold Medal-winning saxophonist Jonathan Radford joined pianist Ashley Fripp in a performance of selected pieces from their debut album The Saxophone Craze earlier this evening at Over-Seas House in Mayfair, London.

Jonathan Radford is an understated performer whose trademark is conjuring up a wide range of colours that effortlessly tickle the senses. Listening to him play live I’m most drawn to the warm sonorous tone in the lower and middle registers combined with the creamiest of legatos that really make the lyrical phrases stand out. When the dynamics demand there’s also a diamond cutting edge to the tone which combined with the unfussy but precise articulation in the upper register gives off a perilous kind of jeopardy.

That Radford is able to draw on such a range of colours is a testament to the solid technique that underpins his musicianship, something demonstrated this evening when after a virtuosic concert opener he introduced the concert programme without so much as a catching a breath. Some diaphragm technique there.  

I feel for young musicians right now, especially those whose fledgling careers were put on hold by COVID.

Jonathan Radford used the time (and the remainder of 2018 ROSL Gold Medal prize money) well with this album however, celebrating the celebrated saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft, the instrumentalist who raised the profile of the saxophone in the 1920s. Quite apart from it being an entertaining listen from beginning to end, the album also positions Radford as part performer-part musicologist. That amplifies the serious and thorough approach to his music-making which makes me look forward to what he’ll release next.

ROSL Alumni pianist Ashley Fripp was industrious at the keyboard throughout demonstrating the extent to which this is an instinctive musical partnership. Both appear in recitals in Norfolk and Devon in the coming months with Jonathan playing at two Wigmore Hall concerts in the coming weeks. 

The Royal Over-Seas League Young Artists Series continues on Tuesday 26 April 2022 with a performance given by Mikeleiz-Zucchi Duo. Tickets available via Eventbrite.

The Bach Choir with Bach’s St Matthew Passion, featuring Ed Lyon as the Evangelist

David Hill conducted the Bach Choir, Southwark Girls Choir and Finchley Music Group in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Sunday 10 April, performing to a near-capacity audience in the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Joining them on stage was a starry cast including Roderick Williams, Sophie Bevan, Jane Irwin, Toby Spence, and former Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme artist Mark Stone. Tenor Ed Lyon completed the ensemble in his role as the Evangelist.

I wasn’t quite prepared for how St Matthew Passion left me feeling at its conclusion: we come to an end but it’s an extremely uneasy one. No one should leave with their heads held high. There is weight to be felt and carried out with us.

This I think only really comes across when present in a complete live performance. But there was a sense that hearing the work in English rather than German (my first time) made the story more immediate, the drama more captivating, and the pain therefore unmistakable.

Much of the emotional impact was felt thanks to the efforts of The Bach Choir and supporting groups whose ensemble work was outstanding. Singing as one, the chorus had at a times a terrifying power. The crowd call for ‘Barrabas!’ and crucifixion underscored a rage that was visceral. 

The Death of Christ was devastatingly conveyed with unequivocal storytelling from Ed Lyon and Mark Stone as Christ. This was followed by a deeply unsettling extended silence during which the full horror of what has occurred collectively sinks in. After that, deft ensemble from the chorus made the subsequent moment intense. 

I am not a person of faith. And yet this performance (familiar from listening to various recordings over the years) left me feeling as though I was complicit in the story. Quite some achievement. 

Ed Lyon shone as the Evangelist, bringing remarkable energy to every line he sang. The higher register had a pleasingly smooth quality to it that made me conclude that I would be, truth be told, happy to listen to him sing all day long. It’s only the second time I’ve seen him sing live. He is a captivating force.

And whilst all of the ensemble deployed their expertise with remarkable effect as you would expect (Jane Irwin in ‘Buß und Reu’ was a particular high point, Sophie Bevan’s ‘Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben’ with flute and oboe trio similarly jaw-dropping), it’s the chorus that really deserves the greatest praise. The attention to detail in articulation and enunciation was stunning – such precision isn’t solely down to conductor David Hill’s clear direction, but the commitment each and every singer brings to the performance, I’m sure.

On a business and marketing front, I was impressed not only by the size of the audience The Bach Choir had conjured up (a considerable number of older patrons few of whom were wearing masks) and the extent to which that audience then filled nearly all of catering outlets in the vicinity during the two-hour interval. The timing of the two halves (the first half started at 11am and the second half finished at 4pm) offered enough time for batteries to recharge and attention to refocus.

UPDATE (11 April 2022)

There’s been a bit of comment about why this post fails to reference the orchestra who played in the concert.

For the avoidance of doubt, it was the Florilegium Ensemble who have, unbeknownst to me (because I’ve never been to a Bach Choir / Bach Passion performance before) have been ‘playing with the choir for decades’.

Had I read the programme I borrowed from the lady sat next to me in the auditorium I might have remembered. As it was, I sat and listened without any notes, totally enthralled by the voices and the story in a way I hadn’t anticipated, hence the focus of the write up below. I found an intensely moving experience as an audience member.

The absence of the orchestra’s name in the original write-up isn’t a reflection of the quality of the playing or my ignorance or thoughtlessness (though others may disagree). Rather it’s a personal reflection of my experience of this stunning performance. I’m sorry that my oversight caused the irritation it did – I can see that my inaction hurt some feelings. I’m genuinely sorry about that. I’m also disappointed the irritation has somewhat overshadowed the experience.

National Youth Choir of Great Britain and The Swingles perform for the planet at Woolwich Works in London

Members of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain joined forces with a-capella singing group The Swingles for a concert of music inspired by themes around climate change and the environment at a new venue in South East London last night.

In a mixed programme of music, it was the National Youth Choir of Great Britain singing unamplified who really shone, in particular during Rachel Portman and Nick Drake’s Earth Song – a captivating performance of a concise stand-alone work that combined a range of evocative theatrical treatments.

The concert was the result of a creative collaboration between The Swingles and NYCGB. The choir’s artistic director Ben Murray (and former Swingle himself) conducted both groups.

At times it felt as though The Swingles dominated the programme (though this concert being recorded for Scala Radio may indicate that it is the Swingles pop/soul content that influenced programme). There was something deeply moving about hearing unamplified voices at the top of the concert for example, making the mixed Swingle sound (eventually) more of a distraction.

The commission – Until It’s Gone – combined both groups in a satisfying way for the exciting space at Woolwich Works. The amplified bass line loops provided by The Swingles underpinned the massed vocal lines of the NYCGB created a sound that really filled the interior. Like Rachel Portman’s Earth Song, the writing is concise with a variety of different ideas strung across multiple short movements).

Come the end of the second half of the concert instinct drove me to want to hear more from the choir and see less of The Swingles bobbing around at the front of the stage. My cynicism had momentarily been held in check however during the interval when I spoke to a woman in the queue at the bar. “What brings you here today?” I asked. “My daughter,” she replied. “I stayed in London last night. I came over from Jersey on a flight yesterday. My daughter told me I didn’t have to come, but to be honest, I couldn’t not be here. I’m so proud of her.”

The biggest surprise of the evening was the splendid interior and facilities at Woolwich Works. It’s not the perfect of concert venues necessarily. The original pillars of the refurbished warehouse do interrupt the sight lines, though the raked seating in the round make for an intimate feel. Acoustically its a little challenging, hence why amplified sound carries better. But it is an exciting space to be in. The venue on the banks of the River Thames also brings a remarkable energy to Woolwich Arsenal, currently readying itself for the opening of the Elizabeth Line.

Anyone Can Sing on Sky Arts: Heartwarming stuff

It’s been a busy week. I’ve not watched a great deal of TV. But what I have seen has been a ‘must-watch’ and it’s made me cry (twice) for all the right reasons.

Sky Arts and ENO’s three-month singing masterclass for the vocally challenged is a heartwarming endeavour built upon a pandemic project. It beams positivity and trades on transformation too. It proudly wears its heart on its sleeve but it’s efficient doing so. It is a pleasure. A much-needed tonic.

Why? Tenor Nicky Spence is given the space to be himself with plenty of room for his gently subversive humour. Trinity Laban Vocal Coach Sarah Pring similarly displays a heart of gold. Michael Harper plays the solid unflappable mature type. A warm supportive and effortlessly empowering ensemble.

In front of them in episode one broadcast on March 30 2022, ten self-confessed challenged vocalists including the star of the show Luke whose Tourette’s is subdued when he sings. Watch his ‘audition’. He’s a heartbreaker.

ENO have come up trumps with this partnership with Sky Arts. I see a LOT of sneering online at the brand (I have myself questioned the long term effectiveness of their Instagram feed which has in recent years sometimes confused cheeky irreverence with a young persons exclusivity/cliqueness.

But in this piece of content the brand rides high. I watch episode one and am reminded of some of the elements of music that bring me joy. There is then a life-affirming quality to this programme. I love it. 

Anyone Can Sing! is on Wednesdays from March 30 2022 on Sky Arts

Manchester Camerata with Jess Gillam at Wigmore Hall

So, Manchester Camerata playing live (at Wigmore Hall tonight) was a bit of a revelation.

Technicolour sounds, warmth, depth, dynamism and an unapologetic commitment to packing their programme full of atmosphere, feeling and blistering talent. There wasn’t a flabby moment in the programme. Nothing out of place. So much energy, not only from them but from a delightfully youthful-looking and hugely appreciate audience.

Notable highlights – too many to detail in full – included a sumptuous performance of Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto matched in technical demands by Dave Heath’s terrifyingly concise and hugely entertaining ‘The Celtic’. Soloist Jess Gillam’s technique is remarkable – stunning breath control, stamina and a consistently reliable embouchure that makes me wonder how she manages to talk when she’s finished playing.

Elsewhere in the programme the strings of Manchester Camerata worked ferociously hard creating a sound world for Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony that sounded like it was created by 50 players not the 17 on stage. Their performance was fierce, sombre, urgent and electrifying. Kudos to the violas who were out of this world.

The programme felt as though it had been sensitively put together, conjuring up a joyous atmosphere in Shiva Feshareki’s VENUS\ZOHREH, and in one that was poignant but not over-indulgent on the pathos, Daniel Kidane’s wistful pandemic-response ‘Be Still’.

The concert was brimming with content that kept me hooked throughout – an indication of a carefully curated programme designed for an audience at one with mood-shifting playlists.

And an additional delicious surprise: Caroline Shaw’s inventive Entr’acte from 2011, packed full of colours and textures that make this a concert piece every school kid needs to hear up close.

Sincere introductions from the group’s highly engaged leader Caroline Pether gave the event an unexpectedly intimate feel. Loved all of it. And I don’t say that often either.