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 www.londonmozartplayers.com, 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.
With no programme there’s a risk of not quite knowing what it is you’re listening to. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially for those of us who consider curiosity to be the only requirement for the live music experience. Not knowing is A Boon.
Not knowing can also throw up some surprises. For the first twenty minutes of the London Mozart Player’s Cadogan Hall gig I thought I was listening to a Mozart overture from an opera I couldn’t quite remember the title of. Hence why I applauded heartily after the final chord, only to discover a few seconds later that the applause had petered out and the work was unfinished.
Something in the music that followed triggered a thought: that sounds like Beethoven, doesn’t it?
The confusion says something about early Beethoven symphonies I had forgotten about. Beethoven’s symphony number two has hints of Mozart, so too hints of the complexities in Beethoven’s writing that perhaps are more obvious in his later symphonies.
Conductor Stephanie Childress asserted herself on the podium with elegance, poise and panache. I was transfixed by the movement of her arms – motion from her shoulder all the way to the tips of her fingers. There was a sense of flow and grace in every move. Precise direction in a clear baton technique drew out some remarkable ensemble work and arresting textures and articulation.
Isata Kanneh-Mason played with verve throughout the demanding Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1, creating a tender melodic line in the second movement. Her fluid technique came the fore in the bravura third movement packed full of decorative elements that make the soloist reach for both ends of the keyboard. Isata was engaged but unfazed – a performance she fashioned from the instrument in front of her.
On a logistical front (these are unusual times), hats off to Cadogan Hall staff for being the venue who have managed to create as near normal a concert experience (including front of house) as I recall pre-pandemic. The acoustic isn’t quite so generous as St John’s Smith Square, nor as clear as Fairfields in Croydon, nor as supportive as Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.
London Mozart Players introduces the seventh series of LMP’s ever-popular Piano Explored series
The London Mozart Players have consistently demonstrated themselves to be a nimble tenacious organisation, brimming with energy, with an infectious kind of tenacity.
LMP’s second series of digital streams – this time focusing on pianist and conductor Howard Shelley’s captivating Piano Explored series – starts on Thursday 18 February 2021.
Recorded at St John’s Smith Square in London in February and March 2021, the seventh series of Piano Explored supported by International Piano will feature five hour-long programmes, with Shelley giving an entertaining and insightful introduction to one or two famous or not-so-famous works for piano and orchestra, before performing them in their entirety with the London Mozart Players. Tickets for the online concerts will be a very reasonably-priced £8.00.
I attended the first episode recording a few weeks back. It was the first time I’d heard live music in many months. The present UK-wide lockdown has starved the ear of a live performance listening experience such that when I heard the first chords in the Saint-Saens the effect was highly emotional, at times overwhelmingly so.
Some of that emotional response is down to the acoustics which supported a clarity of listening I’d almost forgotten about at St John’s Smith Square. To hear so many different textures and orchestration details was a treat, not unlike the experience of hearing after having your earwax removed.
The rest of the emotional response in the moment is created by the energy LMP consistently brings to their performance – charmingly unpretentious but fiercely authentic. Smiles all around and appreciative glances in response to Conductor Laureate Howard Shelley’s direction.
What was the lockdown recording experience like compared to last year?
Interestingly on this occasion the lack of audience wasn’t quite such a painful feeling as it was during the summer of last year when I attended the LPO Summer Session recordings at Henry Wood Hall. This didn’t feel like a ghost event in that respect. Shelley’s easy charm, uncomplicated but passionate explanations and annotations combined with his effortless ability to look straight down the barrel of the lens whenever he talked to the camera had the effect of tricking me into thinking there was an audience in St John’s Smith Square. There’s only one other musician I’ve seen carry that kind of delivery convincingly – violinist Lizzie Ball.
Emphasising the USP of live performance and active listening is key
Most markedly for me was that returning to a live performance experience reinforced the need to be talking about listening. We so rarely reflect on the audience experience of listening, pre-COVID believing that potential audience members were more concerned about dress code, when to clap, and where the toilets were.
Now mid-pandemic we’re thinking about what changes need to come into effect to shake up the classical music experience. Change may well be necessary in some areas, but the opportunity that presents itself now is articulating what the experience is of active listening. To promote the idea of listening for textures, to reflecting on the emotional impact a series of sounds has on the audience member, is to promote the idea of mutually understood language underpinning a communal experience.
Why do we still think there’s something wrong with the physical experience or hold the false assumption that knowledge is required, when the critical faculties that will elevate the experience is curiosity and awareness?
In this way, the London Mozart Players Piano Explored recording at St John’s Smith Square had a profound impact on me triggering my thinking as well as reacquainting myself with how it feels to be in the same physical space as another human being. To have been able to be present in that moment is very special and a manifestation of LMP’s generosity. What it also promises is that this, like similar projects by other orchestras last year, will in time act as potent musical triggers for a range of emotions and memories. And that means the same will be the case for audience members who set foot back into auditoriums, whenever that will be.
In the space of a year some orchestras have risen to the unprecedented challenge COVID-19 has brought about. Whilst many of us would regard filming a concert as a straightforward process, the appetite to do it not to mention the budget was lacking. Creating a audio-visual archive of activities wasn’t in the marketing strategy of many cash-strapped arts organisations. COVID has made digital streams a marketing must-have.
They’re not replacements for live performance, but as substitutes they keep musicians playing during this hiatus, keep the brand visible, and in some cases reach more pairs of eyes than orchestras play to in auditoriums. The really potent question we should be asking is whether digital streams will continue to form an integral part of an orchestra’s activities when the concert halls do open again.
How to watch London Mozart Players Piano Explored series
London Mozart Players Piano Explored with Howard Shelley starts Thursday 18 February at 1pm and is available online. Future concert recordings will be open to socially-distanced physical audiences government guidelines permitting.
Tickets for the online concerts will be £8.00, with films available to view for six months via LMP’s website (except for the Shostakovich concert on 13 May – 30 days only).
Meet my new pal: Beethoven’s violin concerto. I was originally a little unsure of it when I first came across it. It wasn’t Tchaikovsky. Or Mendelssohn. Or Brahms. It seemed heavier, laden with I don’t know what. Much deference seemed to be paid to it. And it was long. Very long.
Something has changed in the intervening years.
It’s still epic. Other worldly. Beyond comparison. The only difference now is that the way it basically shits over everyone else’s concerto, makes it the go-to work. The preferred work.
A lot of that is down to perhaps the most powerful insight I acquired during a symposium I attended in Oxford last year (or was it this year?): that Beethoven is the master of variation.
Right up until that point it hadn’t even dawned on me that at its heart, put in its simplest terms, Beethoven takes the smallest musical idea and runs with it, ringing as much out of it in as many permutations as he can possibly muster. And, when you stumble on that its very difficult not to see that every time you hear anything by Beethoven. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is confirmation bias. Yay.
The London Mozart Players performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto directed by soloist Jonian Ilias Kadesha was a daring endeavour it seemed to me. Such an epic work surely demands more than chamber forces and insists upon a conductor to ensure cohesion?
Not so it seems. Such slavish attention to convention in terms of orchestral forces is a reflection of the very deference rife in the classical music world which perhaps will in years to come be seen to have been eradicated by the pragmatism stoked by a pandemic-driven economic crisis.
Kadesha’s topline strategy was making a virtue of these reduced forces, utilising extreme dynamic contrasts to draw the listener in closer and closer to each individual statement. Placed deep in the heart of the strings (far further back than would normally be the case in a performance with a conductor), sometimes it felt like we struggled to hear Kadesha.
No matter. Kadesha’s secret weapons were his cadenzas. The first: a sort of rock odyssey pulling in various composers (Tchaikovsky’s concerto was without doubt referenced, though the rest moved so quickly I couldn’t quite put my finger on what they were). The second (in the third movement): amounted to new material with inventive orchestrations for the upper strings that widened the eyes and delighted the soul.
Kadesha and the LMP’s performance was exactly what was needed. Cruelly well-timed too. Before the concert (which also included a cracking Coriolanus Overture by the way) LMP director Julia Debruslais stood up to speak to the small but perfectly formed audience, who informed us of one subscriber who had, in the weeks since buying her ticket, died.
Jonian Ilias Kadesha’s performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto with the London Mozart Players is available to watch from 15 November 2020. Ticket and season subscription access information available on the LMP Classical Club website.
Listen to a Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast with violinist Maxim Vengerov.
It’s been a pleasure to be working with the London Mozart Players these past few months. In years to come I suspect I’ll look back on this year with a similar kind of warped fondness as I do on my early years in orchestral management.
From lockdown came a series of blog posts for the Scala Radio website. And from that, a media partnership between the two organisations. I can’t lay claim to all of it. Maybe the introductions and the digital aspect of the partnership. Being able to play a part in making something happen which has the potential to support a transformed activity, and drive revenue at a point in time when its needed most, is energising. There’s more information on the London Mozart Players website. Subscription on-demand concerts premiere on 24th September.
What I’m returning to more and more at these performances is the benefits of proximity and stillness. Last night’s recording was ticketed for a socially-distanced audience, meaning masks, sanitiser, and a chair. Adjusting to this setup as an audience member brings into the light some of the unexpected benefits being a socially-distanced audience member in the concert space. Even if the severe reduction in number of chairs is a visible sign of the urgency of finding sustainable revenue streams via digital, having the space around me before the next bank of two or three chairs counter-intuitively makes for a more intimate concert experience. The feeling of solitude is actually rather heart-warming.
So too, being able to see more detail on the faces of the musicians. (The wind players were necessarily miles away, meaning the demands placed on all to ensure ensemble playing whilst negotiating a boomy acoustic must have been considerable.) It’s going to be a long time before I see the expressions on the faces of wind players, but seeing the expressions between string players mid-performance was uplifting. The orchestra is not a machine that is switched on or off. It’s a collection of spirited energised individuals all expressing something. Getting glimpses of those moments – a smile or a glance to a colleague – is very special and adds to the live-ness of the experience, details that might otherwise be lost when sat further back.
Young Classical Artist Trust cellist Maciej Kulakowski was a good fit for the concert bringing a warm, rich and unwavering tone that exuded confidence and strength. And with no conductor, direction was left to effervescent leader Ruth Rogers. That only added to the intimacy and unfussy-ness of the occasion too, changing the dynamic from the hierarchical structure often implied at the platform to something altogether more collaborative.
This weekend feels like one of those important transition times. This partly down to the government eagerness getting us back to the good-old-British-pub, the busy-ness of the nearby South Circular, and the comfort our neighbours display welcoming a considerable number of pals into their garden this afternoon, people who are quite happy hugging and stroking one another – people I’ve not seen from my office window over the past three months. This is the kind of person I’ve turned into. Give me six months I’ll be reading the Daily Mail and ringing the police on a daily basis.
Others have moved on. I haven’t. Because in my head there are some who feel a little left behind. Friday saw Johnson tease a timeline announcement. Might there be hope? Maybe. As I’ve said before, when the people I care about – the art form I depend on – return to something like a solution for working, then I’ll feel more at ease with this idea that we’re ‘emerging’ from a global pandemic.
Until then, classical music is dependent on the videographer, digital content producer, marketing person and PR.
Not a bad segue as segues go.
It’s worth flagging the efforts of London Mozart Players in all of this. I think their efforts may well go overlooked, possibly because of their scale. I want to write about their achievements because I think that they are one of a handful of classical music endeavours who have amidst all of this craziness consistently surprised me.
My connection with them is (in my head) quite loose. A few years back I interviewed Howard Shelley for a podcast. He was charming and a captivating contributor. Since then, I’ve received emails from LMP’s lovely PR Jo, interviewed some players and former conductors, and three months ago set up a content partnership with the band for Scala Radio Online as they headed into lockdown.
Don’t get me wrong. Not exactly an earth-shattering strategy. More like working with people to capture a moment in time from the perspective of those who were experiencing it.
At the same time, I was impressed by their nimbleness as an organisation. It was almost as though they had anticipated the sudden change in fortune. Someone had made plans for a variety of different digital treatements whilst the orchestra’s core talent – the players – were denied a platform to play together.
They weren’t, of course, the only organisation to do this. But they were one of only a handful who appeared to respond quickly – pivoting effortlessly – delivering a broad range of content digitally.
Part of that willingness, I think, comes from a determined spirit rooted in the band’s psyche. Listen to the interview with Exec Director Julia Desbruslais in the Thoroughly Good Fairfield Halls podcast to get a sense of that unshakeable determination.
Where’s my evidence? It’s anecdotal, predictably. It’s to do with the responsive of individuals, the readiness to meet the needs of various third parites. Willingness. Determination. Spirit.
I interface (sorry, I can think of no other word that helps here) with one individual for LMP: their PR, Jo Carpenter. What many PRs forget is that they are as much the face of the organisation they represent as the organisation themselves and their output. That means that as someone who could write about the organisation they represent, they need to epitomise it. Something magical happens when the right PR is aligned with the right organisation. There are others (in case they’re reading – Rebecca J, Kenny, Tessa, Rebecca D, Nicky and George). Rapport is what drives this key relationship. I will, assuming I’m of value, as a content producer do whatever I can if the rapport is there. In this world, where everyone is thinking they need to cut back everything, remain convinced that the PR is vital to raising awareness of an arts organisation’s activities, strategies, and success.
What LMP has demonstrated to me is that self-confidence, determination, and knowing the right people will pay dividends. Also an understanding of the impact storytelling can have on a digital platform.
Because really, the sight of a group of masked string players (the full concert comes with a co-partnership with another radio station, though 360 Elgar with Tasmin Little is a Scala Radio digital promo), the majority of them women too (one in the eye of anyone who reckons classical is pale, male and stale), is nailing a number of different messages: we’re here; we’re getting on with it; we won’t be beaten by your nonsense – not any of you; and when the time comes we can charge for tickets we’ll appreciate the money you part with.
On Thursday 26 March the London Philharmonic Orchestra announced its digital response to the COVID-19 crisis – LPOnline – including unique performances filmed remotely in the homes of orchestra members, concert playlists, and a range of online resources for schools, home learning, and social care projects.
UPDATE: Pending her reaching the magic 1000 subscribers (at the time of writing she’s 90 off the target), she’s planning a live stream on Sunday 29 March 2020.
London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra have a nifty offer. Streams on YouTube with accompanying digital programme notes, plus spotlights on movies where they feature in the soundtrack. Everything commenced on Thursday 26.
Royal Overseas League at Home
The annual music competition is publishing a series of home-based videos – charming personal pieces to camera with a performance – on its YouTube channel. 2019 ROSL Finalist Kris Garfitt’s touching arrangement of Portugal’s winning Eurovision song (above) from a couple of years back is the perfect tonic.
Royal Opera House
ROH and Royal Ballet announced plans to stream performances late last week. The first wave of content is scheduled for streaming is detailed below.
Peter and the Wolf, The Royal Ballet, 2010 – 27 March 2020, 7pm GMT Acis and Galatea, The Royal Opera, 2009 – 3 April 2020, 7pm BST Così fan tutte, The Royal Opera, 2010 – 10 April 2020, 7pm BST The Metamorphosis, The Royal Ballet, 2013 – 17 April 2020, 7pm BST
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Posted on 20 March, this cumulative video sequence of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th is a bit of a tear-jerker. Beautifully put together. Heartfelt.
London Mozart Players
LMP have announced their ‘At Home with LMP‘ series featuring YouTube Premieres and Live Facebook Watch Parties. First concert on 28th March at 7pm.
7pm, Saturday 28th March Craig Ogden guitar
Barrios Vals op.8 no.4 Scarlatti Sonata in E major, K.380 Excerpts from Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez
Recorded in an empty church last week, The Voice participants Belle Voci release a pre-recorded concert on YouTube sometime this week. Subscribe to their YouTube Channel and Facebook page for more details and alerts.