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July/August 2018 – upcoming London opera – the rest of Grimeborn 2018 including a baroque ‘Xerse’, a reconfigured ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’, a reclaimed ‘Carmen The Gypsy’, repertoire hits, kids’ shows and jazz-dance (24th July to 26th August)

20 Jul

Grimeborn 2018, 24th July to 26th August 2018

While my previous post on London alt.opera festival Grimeborn 2018 dealt with many of its obvious heavy-hitters (including the revivals of Turnage’s ‘Greek’, Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ and Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’, plus its premieres of Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ and a slew of BAME/female-originated one-acters), there’s plenty more to the season. First of all, let’s take a quick look at the reconfigurations.

Most boldly, Opera Louise’s ‘Teenage Bodies’ takes on ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’ – Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude’s seven-song five-voice cantata on the body of Christ. In a corkscrew dive from the sacred to the secular, director/lyricist Julien Chavaz, choreographer Oliver Dähler and music director Jérôme Kuhn rework it as a meditation on puberty and development, mixing live music, physical movement and new text. I’m assuming that the original Biblical listing of “feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face” have either been replaced or restored to the carnal. Equally, perhaps they’ve turned into a politicized view of the relationship and power dynamics between young and old bodies. The publicity photos and videos show what seems to be a Theatre of Cruelty classroom with an elderly man and several younger figures cavorting around each other. It could signify anything. At any rate, it’s one of the best-equipped operas in the festival, complete with small orchestra.

 
For ‘A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffman Revisited’, Opera MIO & Co-Productions take Jacques Offenbach’s rollicking Victorian fantasy opera ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and turn it into an Anglo-Spanish immersive theatre piece spread across three spaces, kitting out the Arcola as Mexico City during the 1940s (during its Golden Cinema Age). The original score will be interspersed with bursts of Mexican danzón, all of the music being played by a four-piece band of piano, cello, clarinet, and violin.

Grimeborn 2018: 'Carmen The Gypsy' - 22nd to 25th August 2018In turn, Romani polymath and Romany Theatre Company head Dan Allum has rewritten Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ as ‘Carmen The Gypsy’, setting it within the contemporary British traveller community and highlighting both anti-Romani racism (“when the outside world thinks you’re scum, can you ever be free?”) and Carmen’s own struggle to liberate herself from “a brutal husband and the shackles of tradition.” This reworking features original Gypsy songs played live on guitar, drum, violin and accordion, plus staged cage fighting (presumably replacing Bizet’s bullfighting) and, as with many RTC productions, a combined English and Romani libretto.

Baroque tradition meets contemporary minimalist theatre in Ensemble OrQuesta’s straighter revival of Francesco Cavalli’s ‘Xerse’, directed by Marcio da Silva. The company triumphed last year with their production of Armide, and return with this dramatic comedy of “jealousy and unfulfilled love” set in the royal court of Persia (with a company of eleven singers, baroque violins, cello, lute and harpsichord).

Milly Forrest

Milly Forrest

For repertoire shows, The Opera Box’s compilation piece ‘Recitals’ (performed by soprano Milly Forrest and pianist Alastair Chilvers) features “new spins” on pieces by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Vincenzo Bellini, Franz Liszt, Francis Poulenc, and Joseph Haydn. In ‘Onegin & Tatiana’, Opera Company director Guido Martin-Brandis presents “an award-winning cast explor(ing) the dramas and psychologies of Alexander Pushkin’s immortal characters”. Centred on the character of Tatiana Onegin (and focussing on female desire, fantasy and personal upheavale) it features music from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, plus additional songs by Strauss, Fauré, Massenet, Barber and Schubert.

The remaining pieces might be heading away from the opera template, but seem to be aimed at pulling in both children and the classical-averse, providing entry points to musical drama. Children are catered for via a return appearance by Melanie Gall, with her acclaimed anthropomorphic kids theatre shows about musical animals winning through against the odds (‘Opera Mouse’ quotes Puccini and Mozart, while the scat-happy ‘Jazz Cat’ is built around the music of Harry Woods, Louis Armstrong and Robert Johnson.)

Melanie Gall: 'Opera Mouse'

A more adult-orientated jazz evening arrives with Nancy Hitzig and Cat Foley’s ‘Swing Sister Swing’ “a cabaret-inspired show celebrating female choreographers, kick ass musicians and pieces created and inspired by jazz-greats” (a trinity of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday). It’ll be performed by Nancy and Cat themselves with fellow dancers Christine “Tine Machine” Gatchalian, Katie Stotter, Benjamin Cook and Stephen Atemie and European champion chorus-line The Dixie Dinahs, and with recorded and live music by Katie. “Through lindy hop, swing dance, vintage burlesque, song and comedy, performers will explore what it means to be a in a partnership and alone.”


 
All performances at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 2DJ, England.

Dates:

  • The Opera Box presents ‘Recitals’ – Thursday 26th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Nancy Hitzig & Cat Foley present ‘Swing Sister Swing’ – Sunday 29th July 2018, 4.00pm & 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Melanie Gall presents ‘Opera Mouse’ – Wednesday 1st August 2018, 11.00am – information here and here
  • Melanie Gall presents ‘Jazz Cat’, Wednesday 1st August 2018, 2.00pm – information here and here
  • Opera Louise presents ‘Teenage Bodies’ – Thursday 2nd August 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Opera MIO & Co-Productions present ‘A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffman Revisited’ – Saturday 4th & Saturday 11th August 2018, 2.30pm / Sunday 5th & Sunday 12th August 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Guido Martin-Brandis presents ‘Onegin & Tatiana’ – Monday 13th & Tuesday 14th August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Romany Theatre Company presents ‘Carmen the Gypsy’ – Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25 August 2018, 8.00pm / Saturday 25 August 2018, 3.00pm – information here and here
  • Ensemble OrQuesta presents ‘Xerse’ – Friday 24th to Sunday 26th August 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July/August 2018 – upcoming London opera – Grimeborn 2018 revives Britten, Turnage and Smyth (plus Ravel, Donizetti and Foreman & Silverman’s ‘Elephant Steps’) and premieres Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ plus diverse-source multi-cultural operas from Ruth Chan, Juwon Ogungbe, Sayan Kent, Daniel Saleeb and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (24th July to 26th August)

15 Jul

Grimeborn 2018, 24th July to 26th August 2018

London’s mockingly-titled ‘Grimeborn’ festival (based at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre) stages opera with a difference: pocket budgets, but broad-field coverage and bold new work both in terms of staging and composition. Amongst the body of work being offered up this summer are premieres (Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ and the cluster of diverse new works which make up ‘Mozaic’); revivals (most prominently the Arcola’s own new productions of Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Greek’, but also including Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’, Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and ‘Rita’, and Maurice Ravel’s ‘L’Heure Espagnole’); plus reconfigured Offenbach and Buxtehude, some mixed’n’themed repertoire concerts, kids shows, infiltrations of jazz and rock theatricals and the first British performances of the “occult, surrealist rock-opera extravaganza” ‘Elephant Steps’.

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Fulham Opera's 'The Prometheus Revolution' - 7th/8th/10th August 2018Dealing with the new material first: Fulham Opera are premiering ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, the first new opera by composer/librettist Keith Burstein since his anti-War On Terror work ‘Manifest Destiny’. The latter blew up a pile of controversy at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe with its suicide bomb-vest scenes, its agit-prop metaphysics and its pungent criticism of Western motives, and eventually led to a wrangle over free speech and alleged promotion of terrorism at the Royal Courts of Justice.

‘…Prometheus…’ looks set to extend at least some of the ideas behind ‘Manifest Destiny’. Like the earlier piece, it’s a politically-heated metaphysical examination of where we are as a society, and what we might do about it, It’s set in an alternative present which closely mirrors our own, with democracy decaying into corrupt war-mongering authoritarianism and economic meltdown, with a peace movement “standing between tyranny and chaos, (although) they too are cleft by internal struggles”. Inspired by the 2012 Occupy Movement’s “99% versus the 1%” ideology, it’s billed as a “dark parable” of “star-crossed lovers, rebellion and revolution against the backdrop of a corrupt political class… shot through with pathos and ironic humour.”

As with ‘Manifest Destiny’, you can also expect more of the vigorously tonal Burstein approach to music and tunes, with a post-Britten-and-Berg score additionally “laced with the sounds of vaudeville, Broadway musicals and pop ballads.” It’s arranged for piano and singers: you’ll have to imagine the intent of a full hovering orchestra.

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Using a mixture of live and recorded music, the Mozaic Opera Showcase stages new works by black and British Asian opera creators (and, it seems, female ones) drawing on stories “yet to be seen and heard in contemporary Britain… from West Africa to Armenia to ancient China and beyond” and encouraging us to “hear opera traditions from around the world mixed with jazz, Chinese orchestra, edgy contemporary classical and more.” Three days of workshops aimed at “empowering BAME artists and associates to create new, diverse operas” will be followed by two days in which six such works are presented.

As well as the new ‘Red Seed’ (by rising theatre polymath Sayan Kent), there’ll be Hoc Opera’s production of ‘Occō’s Eternal Act’ by composer Daniel Saleeb and librettist Oge Nwosu. A ‘Huit-Clos’-ian chamber drama for five singers and eight players(previously staged at the Barbican and the V&A) its titular Occō is “trapped in a purgatorial space peopled with four significant characters from his life. He can’t escape them so he makes them perform, over and over again, for his imaginary audience…”

From Sheffield, West African-inspired theatre company Utopia are bringing down their’Pied Piper of Chibok’. Composed by eclectic Anglo-Nigerian composer Juwon Ogungbe, who balances Western opera with Afro-jazz and pop (and with a libretto by Ariya director/writer/producer Olusola Oyeleye), it conflates the European legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with the horrific real-life story of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The Myaseen Collective is presenting ‘1000 Songs’, a collaboration between visually-slanted harpist/singer/composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian and multi-instrumental singer Ziazan (who’s providing the libretto). In this “story we’re gradually going to tell” (which appears to explore the interrelated contemporary rise of neo-fascism and of woman-silencing), a woman “escapes a mob attack and locks herself away. She speaks to no-one but her tame nightingale, until she forgets how to speak – and only sings.”

 
Film, television and theatre composer Ruth Chan, known for everything from Ghost Orchestra to work with Dario Marianelli and the RSC) makes several contributions. There’s a revival of her 2014 mini-opera ‘Rain’, a collaboration with librettist Elaine Ruth White, in which Barry, the threatened head of an incompetent English water company gets into profound, potentially life-changing conversation with his Sudanese cleaner Asha (a woman from a region “where women have to walk miles to polluted streams and wells, risking the dangers of rape and death to fetch water for their families”).

 
Also being performed is Ruth’s ‘Between Constellations’ on which she worked with librettist Zoë Palmer (Musical Rumpus) and dramatist Jennifer Farmer. This was a semi-finals winner in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s ‘Fight For The Right‘ initiative, “a global commissioning competition for female composer and librettist teams to create original music dramas inspired by themes of girls and women transforming their lives through education.”

Finally, Ruth’s also contributing a revival of ‘Turandot Reimagined’ – a partly-Mandarin, Yuan Dynasty-set version of Puccini’s opera (which she’s re-arranged to a new libretto mostly by Simon Wu)/ It was originally staged three years ago by Tête à Tête, in association with Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal and the SOAS Silk and Bamboo Chinese Instrument Ensemble. Hopefully the latter will be up and involved again for the Dalston performance…


 
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Elsewhere, current events and undercurrents are making their presence felt on the Arcola’s two homegrown revivals. Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ has been in the general repertoire since its 1946 premiere, but the new Arcola version (directed by Julia Burbach of the Royal Opera House, who’s recently made a mark with revelatory productions of ‘Madama Butterfly’ and ‘Tosca’) links its story of decadence, virtue and ravishment to the outrage and repercussions around the #MeToo movement. (The press release reads “in Rome, 510 BC, Lucretia is sought out in the night by the prince Tarquinius. In Dalston, 2018 AD, a man and woman invite you to watch a re-enactment.” I’m not sure where they take it from there…)

Since its own arrival in 1988, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s four-handed multi-character piece ‘Greek’ has also made its own mark on the repertoire. For this year’s Arcola version, original adapter and stager Jonathan Moore returns to direct. It’ll be interesting to see how the piece has aged. Its old, seething vision of the East End (based around Steven Berkoff’s bare-knuckled, gutter-mouthed reimaging of the Oedipus legend) may have been slightly blurred and dissolved by the odd bedfellows of gentrification on the one hand and white flight, but it’s world of territorial café kings and hair-curling working-class invective should have kept some of its dramatic power intact regardless, calling up memories of the 1979 Winter of Discontent and the imminent, bloody birth of the Thatcher era.

Fulham Opera's ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, 9th/11th August 2018The second of Fulham Opera’s two Grimebourne offerings is a piano-and-voices, Italian-language, contemporary-setting version of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ – the repertoire staple (with its famous “mad scene”) of a woman ground up between the feuding rages of men. Perhaps it’s tied in with the fresh feminist reading of ‘The Rape Of Lucretia’, but if operatic narratives of tragic and tormented women (being ravished and/or losing their battles) just gets your goat, you might prefer to see another Donizetti piece, ‘Rita’, appearing as half of an Opera Alegría double bill (with Maurice Ravel’s ‘L’heure espagnole’). Both pieces showcase, via new libretto translations by Lindsey Bramley (who’ll also be performing the piano accompaniment), strong female opera characters possessing both wit and agency. In ‘Rita’, the fiery landlady of an Italian inn and her intimidated husband Peppe find the already fragile state of their marriage further tested by the arrival of her first husband, previously presumed dead. In ‘L’heure espagnole’, Concepción (the cheerfully unfaithful wife of a Toledo clockmaker) embarks on a farcical day of attempts to smuggle her assorted lovers into her bedroom, each wedged into the case of a grandfather clock…

Spectra Ensemble's ‘The Boatswain's Mate’ – 30th/31st July, 1st August 2018

Likewise, you might enjoy ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’. Revered by feminists and musicologists alike for her determination, her musical daring and her fullhearted involvement in the Suffragette movement, Edwardian-era composer Ethel Smyth wrote and staged several of her own operas. Dating from 1914, ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’is a battle-of-the-sexes comedy set in a Margate to which “young and old alike have flocked… for summer loving, healthy air and strolls on the promenade. But, at a quiet pub set back from the seafront, the landlady has a nuisance on her hands. She’s confronted with a suitor who simply won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. When he comes up with a last-ditch plan to win her heart, our formidable heroine gives him more than he’d bargained for…” Spectra Ensemble present a rare revival set during the 1952 coronation and the height of post-war seaside culture, scored for voices and a piano/cello/violin trio (and celebrating, in part, the hundredth anniversary of female suffrage in Britain).

Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre's ‘Elephant Steps’, 20th to 22nd August 2018
I’ll close the first bit of the preview with a quick look at Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre’s European premiere/fiftieth anniversary staging of ‘Elephant Steps’, a total theatre work from composer Stanley Silverman and librettist Richard Foreman (whose New York theatrical adventures have been described as “disorientation massage” and in which “music, light, images, movement, graphics, films, incense, machinery, props and performers are incorporated into a spectacular mix.” The first of seven alternative operas which Foreman and Silverman wrote together between 1968 and 1990, ‘Elephant Steps’ is a bizarre night journey following the ailing Hartman, apparently under malign spiritual attack from the suspect guru Reinhardt as he seeks to free himself, is strongarmed into false confessions, and is guided by mysterious Elephant-Angels. Silverman’s eclectic score includes elements of rock, ragtime, madrigals, Roma violins and Rodgers & Hammerstein, while Foreman’s words and concepts make an intoxicating stew of film noir, surrealism, paranoia and dream-logic imagery (all mixed with Kennedy’s new staging inspired by David Lynch, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau).

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More Grimeborn to follow in a later post… meanwhile, here are the dates for the shows listed above. All performances at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 2DJ, England.

  • Arcola Theatre presents ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ – Monday 23rd to Monday 30th July 2018, Wednesday 1st to Saturday 4th August 2018, times t.b.c – information here and here
  • Spectra Ensemble presents ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’ – 30th July to 1st August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Opera Alegria presents ‘Rita’ & ‘L’Heure Espagnole’ – 3rd & 4th August 2018, 8.00pm / 5th August 2018, 5.00pm – information here and here
  • Fulham Opera presents ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ – 7th, 8th, 10th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Arcola Theatre presents ‘Greek’ – 8th to 18th August 2018, times t.b.c. – information here and here
  • Fulham Opera presents ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ – 9th & 11th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Creative and Produce-orial Workshops – Monday 13th, Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th August 2018, 10.00pm to 6.00pm – information here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Showcase 1 (‘Red Seed’/’Rain’/’Occō’s Eternal Act’/’Pied Piper of Chibok’) – Thursday 16th & Friday 17th August 2018, time t.b.c. – information here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Showcase 2 (‘Between Constellations’/’Turandot Reimagined’/’1000 Songs’) – Monday 13th, Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th August 2018, time t.b.c. – information here
  • Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre presents ‘Elephant Steps’ – 20th to 22nd August 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

June/July 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – ‘The Women Musicians of Conway Hall’s Past’ (24th June); Gabriella Swallow’s SOLO 05 performance (12th July)

16 Jun

Small, dignified assertions – often backed by blazing indignation. Discreet steps and consolidations, keeping one’s powder dry and one’s skills honed. A land claimed by determination and inches. During the period covering the Victorian era up until the First World War, the fight for women to get their concert music taken seriously was one of stamina rather than spectacle; of battles fought mostly against fathers and propriety and a condescending musical establishment, and mostly behind closed doors. The struggle for space for women to compose in and to be considered ran alongside – and in some cases intermeshed with – struggles for other suffrages.

Today, with the work of women like Judith Weir and Tansy Davies now respected and filling concert halls – Conway Hall looks back at some of their British forebears during leaner and stonier years for female composers, in a concert celebrating those women’s work and Conway Hall’s own part in encouraging it, perhaps retrospectively mining some commonality of purpose from the assorted voices and perspectives (carried in pieces that range from the parlour music which most composing women were restricted to, up to a string quartet by the redoubtable Ethel Smyth, Suffragette and prolific composer of assorted works from solo pieces to full-blown choral works and operas).

'The Woman Musicians of Conway Hall's Past', 24th June 2018

“The Sunday Concerts at Conway Hall have been running since 1887, previously under the name of the South Place Sunday Popular Concerts, making it the longest running series of its kind. This concert will celebrate the special platform that South Place offered to women musicians during the first thousand concerts between 1887 and 1927.

“Victorian London was a difficult place for women to carve a successful career as musicians, particularly composers. However, during this forty-year period a wealth of opportunities emerged. South Place made an important contribution to these improvements by programming a still-small, but significant, number of women composers – many more than appeared at similar concerts in the capital. Their works were programmed alongside famous international composers as well as other lesser-known contemporary British composers, thus offering audiences of the day a unique and diverse breadth of repertoire for their Sunday evening entertainment.

“All of the works in this one-off concert were written by British women and were performed in the early years of the chamber music concerts. Most of the music has been rarely performed since, despite being popular in its day and still offering compelling sounds to a modern audience. For further insights into the history of the concerts, the women and their music, Jessica Beck (a Ph.D student at the Royal Northern College of Music, who’s been researching and blogging about the women in the concert, from the records at Conway Hall) will be giving a free pre-concert talk at 5.30pm.”

The performers for the evening are baritone Simon Wallfisch, violinist Eulalie Charland and Emanuela Buta, viola player Judith Busbridge, cellist Gabriella Swallow, and pianist Maiko Mori.

The works being performed are Alice Verne-Bredt‘s ‘Phantasie Trio’, Maude Valérie White‘s ‘To Mary’, Liza Lehmann‘s ‘Myself When Young’ (from ‘In a Persian Garden’), Amy Grimson‘s ‘Canzona’, Josephine Troup‘s ‘Kleines Wiegenlied’, Edith Swepstone‘s ‘Spectral Hunt’ and Ethel Smyth‘s ‘String Quartet in E minor’.

A few preview versions of pieces in the programme, plucked from various times:




 
Conway Hall Sunday Concerts presents:
‘The Women Musicians of Conway Hall’s Past’
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1R 4RL, London
Sunday 24th June 2018, 6:30 pm
– information here and here
 
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The evening’s cellist, Gabriella Swallow has her own one-woman concert coming up in early mid-July, when she teams up with Alex Groves‘ ‘SOLO’ concert series.

SOLO 05: Gabriella Swallow, 12th July 2018

Performing in Handel’s music room at Handel & Hendrix In London (formerly the Handel House Museum) she’ll be playing contemporary works by Kaija Saariaho and Helmut Lachenmann, improvisations on baroque works, and delivering the world première of a new Alex Groves piece.

 
SOLO presents:
SOLO 05: Gabriella Swallow
Handel & Hendrix In London, 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 4HB, England
Thursday 12th July 2018, two concerts (6:30pm & 8:30pm)
– information here, here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – John Sturt premieres ‘Beyond the Cradle of Humanity’ (15th June); The Octandre Ensemble play Frank Denyer (17th June); emerging young Trinity Laban composers storm The Ivy House for ‘Hidden Messages: Contemporary Music’ (18th June)

10 Jun

John Sturt: 'Beyond The Cradle Of Humanity', 17th June 2018

“Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever…” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

It’s been a highly productive year for emerging Trinity Laban composer John Sturt. His ‘Pulsar’ (for cello and percussion) premiered at the college back in February, several vocal works were also premiered the same month up at the Old Royal Naval College chapel in Greenwich, and his string quartet ‘Volatilis’ will getting its continental European premiere in Switzerland in July.

This month he’s premiering his largest work to date, at the college’s Laban Building in Deptford. Responding to the concept of the colonisation of space, ‘Beyond The Cradle of Humanity’ is a larger scale work for orchestra, chorus and narrator. I can’t tell you much more about it beyond that, or providing the video clip above. There are some five-year-old pre-Laban synthesized symphony demos over on John’s Soundcloud page (along with his cute and deceptively clever experimental faux-muzak effort ‘Space-Lift Waiting Room‘). However, this summer John is also releasing his first record – ‘The Cloths of Heaven: The Vocal Work of John Sturt’ – with a preliminary taster available below: and perhaps this, plus the Soundcloud clip of his church choral work ‘Breaking of the Bread’, are better pointers to what ‘…Cradle…’ might be like.

 
John Sturt: ‘Beyond the Cradle of Humanity’ World Premiere
Studio Theatre @ Laban Building (Trinity Laban University), Creekside, Deptford, London, SE8 3DZ, England
15 June 2018, 6.00pm
– information here

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Sticking with Trinity Laban for a moment: three days later, a gang of composers and musicians from the college will be showcasing their own music at a free concert in Nunhead.

“Inspired by Easter eggs hidden in video games, twelve composers attempt to hide references, clues and secret messages within newly written pieces of music performed by three fantastic ensembles. These ensembles will also be performing music of their choice, in response to their newly written works. Come and celebrate the start of the summer and the end of exams!”

'Hidden Messages', 18th June 2018

Event organiser Mikey Parsons explains “most Trinity Laban student events take place on campus at the student union bar. We were frustrated by this, because it meant that only other students or teachers generally saw our work. I also personally was frustrated by the formalities observed in a classical music setting. My background is in performing with rock bands in pubs: I prefer the laid-back atmosphere there and wanted to organise a concert of our work that was for all intents and purposes the same vibe as a rock gig in a pub. In the future I want to organise gigs that feature rock bands and classical groups on the same bill. I’d love to see a string quartet open for a punk band!

“The groups playing at the Ivy House are a brass quintet, a vocal sextet and a mixed group (flute, clarinet, baritone sax, percussion and guitar). We divided the twelve composers across the three groups. The brass and vocal groups are also going to choose some repertoire in response to their new pieces: it’s an opportunity to bring some of their music into a fresh context.

“The theme was inspired by video game easter eggs. My first easter egg was the one in ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ where you find a hidden area and there’s a sign saying something like “You weren’t supposed to be able to find here”. The thing I enjoy about them the most is the looking for them. For example – when I wrote the brief and sent it to the composers, I told them that I had hidden an easter egg in the message. Some of them went crazy trying to find it and one in particular spent a whole weekend on it, re-reading the message! In the end none of them got it but they came up with some interesting theories. I found it fascinating that they would spend time on a simple piece of text like that, and that they would read all kinds of messages out of it that I hadn’t intended at all.

“So what I’m hoping to achieve with the audience at this concert is the same focused attention of trying to work out what the music is trying to say, feeling delighted when discovering a reference to something, and perhaps coming up with their own theories as to what the answer could be.”

Despite being forthcoming about motivations and inspirations, Mikey’s not sent me composer names and work titles yet. I’ll post some up in a later edit if I get the chance…

Porcine Moth Promotions presents:
‘Hidden Messages: Contemporary Music’
The Ivy House, 40 Stuart Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3BE, England
Monday 18th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Update, 12th June – the following composers will be having their work performed: Mikey Parsons, Samuel Pradalie, Caitlin Harrison, Aurora Nishevci, James Layton, Theo Finkel, Markas Michmel, Sam Carr, Jess Ward, James Taylor, Haribaskar Ganesan and Marisa Munoz Lopez. Here are some of their past pieces…

 
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Octandre Ensemble

In between, there’s the second in the ongoing run of “composer portraits” at west London’s Print Room, presented by ritual-and-timbre-focussed chamber group The Octandre Ensemble.

Frank Denyer is an interesting contemporary classical contradiction (and marketer’s nightmare) – he’s a dedicated composer, musical thinker and ethnomusicologist who, in spite of having always written for “strange combinations of instruments” including non-Western ones, has declared a lack of interest in hybridization or crossover work. He’s specialised in a knack for acoustics and timbre, for interest in quietness or in “radical melody”, and – according to ‘The Strad’, music with a “semi-theatrical, almost ritualistic atmosphere”; but while he’s composed for non-Western instruments such as shakuhachis and ocarinas, it’s been primarily for their opportunities of tone-colour and readily-available microtonal pitches rather than for cultural histories, which he respects but makes no effort to ape.

 
Clarifying Frank’s position, the late fellow musicologist Bob Gilmore‘s introduction to the Denyer website asserts that his work “suggests that all instruments bear the imprint of the tradition of which they are a part, whether that tradition be nascent, mature or decaying, and that at the beginning of the twenty-first century we cannot afford to be complacent about which musical traditions we consider to be ‘ours.’…his concern with musical instruments can also be seen as a metaphor for the larger question of what can be salvaged, artistically, from the chaos of civilization as we begin our new century.”

In a 2007 interview with ‘Paris Transatlantic’, Frank himself stated that “many composers seem happy with the inherited traditional models of music making, albeit with the occasional minor modification, but for me, in the rapidly transforming social environment we find ourselves in, this seems woefully inadequate. We urgently need a fluidity that will allow a multiplicity of new models of musical collaboration to emerge.”


 
For this concert, Octandre and guests will perform an hour’s worth of Denyer music (plus interval) spanning from 1972 to 2017. ‘Screens’ (composed in 2017 and being performed by EXAUDI soprano Juliet Fraser plus violin, viola and two percussionists), requires four “visually arresting dressing screens to conceal performers” as well as elements of stage lighting; while 1983’s ‘After The Rain’ (for shakuhachi, three ocarina players, percussion and violin) is “a work of unique beauty… inspired by Denyer’s experience of the breathtaking regeneration of the Kenyan landscape after an extended drought.”

The other pieces in the programme includes some of Frank’s early ’70s pieces – the bass flute quartet ‘Quick, Quick the Tamberan is Coming’; ‘Unison 1’ (for female voice, two flutes, violin and viola) and ‘Hanged Fiddler’ (for violin, sustaining instrument – in this case, viola – and percussion), while his twenty-first century work is also represented by ‘Two Voices and Axe’ (for female voice, male voice, violin, viola, flute, double bass, and doubled percussion).

As with the other Way Out East sessions, the composer will be discussing his work in a pre-concert interview, and socialisation with the musicians afterwards is encouraged.

Way Out East: Composer Portraits presented by Octandre Ensemble – Frank Denyer
Print Room @ The Coronet, 103 Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3LB, England
Sunday 17th June 2018, 5.00pm
– information here and here

Some assorted Denyer work, for the curious…

 

June 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – outstanding free late-lunch listening with Borough Music’s Series 9 (5th, 12th, 19th, 26th June) featuring Ret Frem Ensemble, Amy Jolly, Janet Oates and Aleksander Szram (plus reworked Britten and Finnissy and premiere pieces from Janet Oates, Janet Graham, Hollie Harding, Joel Järventausta, Frederick Viner)

3 Jun

Borough New Music‘s rolling programme of free concerts of new, recent and/or time-tested classical music continues with Series 9 this month.

* * * * * * * *

Ret Frem, 5th June 2018

The first of the concerts, on 5th June, features the Ret Frem Ensemble. They’ll be performing a programme including ensemble leader Will Handysides‘ own ‘Geiterspeil’ (2017), the British premiere of Series 9 guest artistic advisor Hollie Harding‘s ‘by breath and bow’, Kaija Saariaho‘s ‘Cendres’ (from 1998) and Barry O’Halpin‘s ‘Catarrh’ (from 2014). The set’s completed by Wil Offermans‘ reworking of the traditional Japanese tune ‘Tsuro No Sugomori’ and by Michael Finnissy 2003 piece ‘June’ (in a new version which he specifically assembled for Ret Frem).

Here are versions of the Harding, Saariaho and O’Halpin pieces…

 
plus a previous giddy Handysides ensemble piece as a pointer…

 
* * * * * * * *

Amy Jolly, 12th June 2018

The 12th June concert is a solo instrumental event for cellist Amy Jolly. She’ll be playing Kaija Saariaho‘s 1997 piece ‘Spins And Spells’ and Per Nørgård‘s ‘Sonata for Solo Cello No.2 In Due Tempi’ (consisting of two pieces composed over a gap of twenty-seven years – 1953’s ‘Solo Intimo’ and 1980’s ‘Solo in Scena’).

In addition, she’ll be playing Benjamin Britten’s 1976 piece ‘Tema “Sacher”‘ and a pair of new Hollie Harding variations on it (‘Extension’ and ‘Motion’, both composed for Amy over the last two years).

Various previous renditions of the pieces concerned:




 
* * * * * * * *

The 19th June concert showcases the compositions of Janet Oates and features an ensemble built around the soprano vocals of Jill House, Olivia Moss and Janet herself, plus Janet’s flute-playing, piano from Ret Frem’s Clare Simmonds and cor anglais from Nancy Johnston.

Half of the programme are Janet’s own songs: the previously-performed ‘Atomic Songs and Fancies’ and ‘Blind Fool Love’, and the two world premieres ‘Arse-elbow’ and ‘A Lover’. The rest of it’s made up of recent classical song repertoire: the late Jonathan Harvey‘s ‘Ah Sunflower’ and Tansy Davies‘ ‘Destroying Beauty’ (both from 2008), plus Dai Fujikura‘s ‘Away We Play’. There’ll also be two further world premieres of as-yet-untitled works by Joel Järventausta and Frederick Viner.

Here are previous renditions of the Fujikura and Harvey pieces and one of Janet’s previous performances of ‘A Lover’; plus a couple of previous Järventausta and Viner pieces (along the same ensemble lines, at least, as the new ones to be performed).



 
* * * * * * * *

Alexandr Szram, 26th June 2018The last of the June concerts – on the 26th – is another solo instrumental concert, this time for pianist Aleksander Szram. He’ll be playing Harding’s ‘Suite P’, Daryl Runswick‘s ‘Scafra Preludes Book 2’, Haris Kittos‘ ‘Arthrós’ and Simon Katan‘s ‘Khepera’, as well as the world premiere of Janet Graham‘s new ‘Sonata for Piano’.

Here are various renditions of the Harding and Kittos pieces, plus the preceding piece in the Runswick ‘Scafra Preludes’ sequence:

 
* * * * * * * *

Borough New Music Series 9, June 2018All events are at St. George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, Borough, London, SE1 1JA, England: Dates and links below:

  • Series 9: Pot Luck! Ret Frem Ensemble – Tuesday 5th June 2018, 1.00pm – information here
  • Series 9: Featured Instrument – Cello – Amy Jolly – Tuesday 12th June 2018, 1.00pminformation
  • Series 9: Featured Composer – Janet Oates – Tuesday 19th June 2018, 1.00pm – information here
  • Series 9: Featured Performer – Aleksander Szram – Tuesday 26th June 2018, 1.00pm – information here

 

March 2018 – upcoming London pop/rock/etc gigs – Demons of Ruby Mae, Tonochrome and Daniels Goldseal (7th March); Blind Dog Studio show with Colonial Sun, Mally Harpaz and Naomi McLean/Hazel Iris/Aine Mcloughlin (7th March)

1 Mar

A couple of interesting gigs on March 7th…

* * * * * * * *

Demons of Ruby Mae + Tonochrome + Daniels Goldseal, 7th March 2018

Scruff of the Neck presents:
Demons of Ruby Mae + Tonochrome + Daniels Goldseal
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Wednesday 7th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Leicester-via-Manchester multi-instrumentalists Jonny Gavin and Adam Rowley – a.k.a. Demons Of Ruby Mae – produce a broad, flowing and assured grand pop, the kind that sounds tailor-made for cinema trailers and box set TV. The mixture of luxuriant instrumental illustration and echoing space – plus Jonny’s impassioned vibrato vocal – results in something like the homeless marine-folk piano ballads of Olafur Arnalds with perhaps a little more contemporary pop underpinning. In existence for six years now, they’ve been on the up since releasing the ‘Someday’ single last year.



 
I’m not sure which Tonochrome you’re going to get on the night – the brasher, shape throwing pop-rock band which puts out singles like ‘Not Gonna End Well’ while grabbing for burnished hooks and straightforward messages; or the altogether more fluid entity which they present on their debut album which blooms through shades of art-rock and scintillating prog (weaving a graceful dance with vibraphones, string sections, moving jazz chordage and pillowing horns, while staying closer to the inquiring pop-shaded spirit of Field Music, Talk Talk and Dutch Uncles than to the likes of Spock’s Beard). Both versions are current; both are contained within the Tonochrome scope; both currently seem to cohabit without stress.

One thing that’s certain is that, following several promising years of finding their feet, Tonochrome are now stepping with great assurance. How they’re going to carry off these subtler shadings live when cut back to their basic five-piece rock lineup I’m not sure, but there’s enough savvy in them to find a way.



 
Emerging from roots as a somewhat introverted solo project for songwriter Ian Daniels, Daniels Goldseal has evolved into a canny, effective cinematic song-lens through which Ian can both observe and cast fresh light. With Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, Mark Lanegan and Lambchop as likely inspirations and/or comparisons, Ian operate an absorptive, drifting frame of reference, orbiting the truth in a haze of tequila tones and commenting in a voice sometimes full of sardonic barfly foreboding, sometimes a dreamy Celtic burr.

So far Ian’s got only four publically-released songs behind him, each with a different soundscape – the muttering dusty guitar of Nectarines, the flatlands gospel pining of Out Of the Woods, the barebones electronic R&B, harmonium scratch and Leon Redbone slurs which come together in June, and the hooded country/barstool-folk of A Woman Is, complete with growling electric piano and distant swerves of pedal steel. I’ve no idea what he’ll try to do live: probably he’ll be bringing these and other songs along in fresh sets of clothes.

 
* * * * * * * *

Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + others, 7th March 2018Blind Dog Studio Presents
Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + Naomi McLean/Hazel Iris/Aine Mcloughlin
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Wednesday 7th March 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

While still best known for backing up Anna Calvi, multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz has been very active with her own music recently. Her multimedia art collective Blind Dog Studio has been going from strength to strength: their biggest show yet, continuing their aims of proving “a musically cinematic experience”, now comes to St Pancras Old Church.

As before, Mally’s bringing her soundtrack compositions – instrumental chamber pop – to sync with the Clara Aparicio Yoldi video animations which inspired them and which expand on classic paintings. Also as before, Colonial Sun (a.k.a. James Marples, will be performing his dark post-imperial Australian ballads with cello and percussion.

 
In addition, recent Guildhall graduate and budding composer Naomi McLean, renegade opera singer-turned-experimental folk-popper Hazel Iris (whose melliflous EP ‘Misfortunate Tales’ is out now) and accordionist Aine Mcloughlin are teaming up to perform classical compositions – possibly newly written and possibly not. Blind Dog aren’t giving away much beyond expansive murmurs of “candles and viola, mesmerising arias, exceptional guests before the altar”, so while you’re waiting to be swept away by the churchy glamour, here’s a bit of Hazel plus a Mally song from last autumn…



 

March 2018 – London classical gigs – composers fresh from the Royal Academy of Music (20th); an International Women’s Day event for London Composers Forum (8th March); an evening with the Ligeti Quartet and cyberpianist John Kameel Farah (14th March); ‘Rise Of The Machines’ at the Converge Festival fuses classical music and artificial intelligence (18th March)

21 Feb

London Academy of Music: Composer's Platform, 20th March 2018Late in March, the composition department of the Royal Academy of Music makes its way over to IKLEKTIC for “an evening of cutting edge new music, specially written for academy performers. The concert will showcase a hugely diverse range of musical influences. Come along and hear new music from the next generation of composers.” No names have been announced yet… but then, that’s part of the point. Come and be in at the start of some new careers.

Just under two weeks earlier, the London Composers Forum will be running a Composer’s Voice event for March, coinciding with International Women’s Day, with a concept which speaks for itself:

The Composer's Voice (IWD), 8th March 2018“This concert will feature exclusively new live and recorded music composed by the female members of LCF, performed by women. With a mixture of choral, vocal and instrumental pieces, it is sure to be full of variety and interest.

“There will be a discussion on the theme of “music by women” between the composers and performers that we hope the audience will participate in also; and an opportunity to discuss several hot topics relating to IWD, music by women, parity and what happens next…”

The LCF IWD event is free and open to all. Forum composers involved and represented are Janet Oates (director of and participant in the Philomel soprano sextet), wind multi-instrumentalist Liz Sharma, Miriam Mackie (founder of Illumination Chamber Choir), experimental performer and Bastard Assignments cohort Caitlin Rowley, singer/actor/songwriter Jane de Florez, Zillah Myers (a member of and repertoire contributor to The Addison Singers who’s also composed for Bude Choral Society) and Pamela Slatter (who’s composed for the London Concert Choir and, more recently, has set Edward Lear’s ‘The Pobble Who Has No Toes’).

Royal Academy of Music presents:
Royal Academy of Music: Composer’s Platform
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

London Composers Forum presents
The Composer’s Voice: Music and Discussion for IWD 2018
Tea House Theatre, 139 Vauxhall Walk, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HL, England
Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Taking a break from performing on ice sculptures and space shuttles in favour of a pub backroom, the Ligeti Quartet have set up a regular monthly gig with Nonclassical in Dalston, to showcase contemporary exploratory string music.

Ligeti Quartet + John Kameel Farah, 14th March 2018

Nonclassical presents:
Ligeti Quartet + John Kameel Farah
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 14th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

This March, they’ll be presenting the European premiere of Anna Meredith’s ‘Tuggemo’), as well as performances of Kate Whitley’s ‘Lines’, Christian Mason‘s ‘Eki Attar’ and Tanya Tagaq‘s ‘Sivunittinni’ (as originally rendered by the Kronos Quartet, with the strings emulating Tagaq’s barrage of Inuit vocal effects via an array of frictional and percussive bow techniques devised by arranger Jacob Garchik).

Here’s a clip of the Ligetis performing an earlier Meredith work, plus the original Kronos performance of ‘Sivunittinni’, an earlier Kate Whitley strings-and-piano piece, and Christian Mason’s ‘Aimless Wonder’.



 
The Ligetis’ guest on this occasion is a pianist – Canadian musician John Kameel Farah, who surrounds and combines his piano playing with an array of synthesizers and processors which filter, warp and orchestrate his performance, which itself allies contemporary classical music with baroque, electronic, Early Music and Middle Eastern elements.

John will be premiering his new composition ‘Spinning Thread’ as well as drawing four more pieces from his back catalogue and from recent album ‘Time Sketches’ (‘Fantasia’, ‘Distances’, ‘Behold’ and ‘Maqam Constellation’) plus a performance of William Byrd’s ‘Hugh Ashton’s Ground’.



 
DJ sets will be provided by Ben Vince (a musician better known for his frenetic sets of improv/loop saxophone playing).

* * * * * * * *

More Nonclassical DJs (in the shape of Laurence Osborn and others) and more technological approaches and motifs will be showing up for the last of the four events covered in this post. While much of this year’s Convergence festival leans towards avant-garde pop artists with a foot in the contemporary classical world (John Cale, Kamaal Williams, Ben Frost, Simian Mobile Disco and Charlotte Gainsbourg are all appearing over the course of the month), the second in the festivals’s ‘Rise Of The Machines’ concert series takes a witty but serious look at the ongoing crossover between classical music and computer/systems thinking.

Convergence: Rise Of The Machines #2, 18th March 2018

Convergence 2018 presents:
‘Convergence: Rise Of The Machines #2’
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Sunday 18th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Conductor Jessica Cottis (who also contributed to the City of London Sinfonia’s ‘Modern Mystics’ series last year) will be leading a thirty-piece orchestra, bolstered by live devices operated by members of Langham Research Centre (who maintain vintage electronic instruments in order both to safeguard the performance of 20th century classic electronic repertoire and to apply “period electronica” to newer compositions). Composers Beni Giles, Laurence Osborn, Josephine Stephenson, Jo Thomas and Max de Wardener have all collaborated on the event’s world premiere centrepiece, ‘Concerto for Drum Machine & Orchestra’, each of them contributing one of five movements to a composition which “places the drum machine centre-stage as solo musical instrument, bringing the sounds of dance music and hip-hop to the classical world.” Plenty of young and youngish contemporary composers have attempted to bring forms inspired by rave, techno, house into New Classical. As far as I know, this is the first such piece to surrender entirely to the primacy of beat and box.

In Nick Ryan and John Matthias’ violin-and-string-ensemble piece ‘Cortical Songs’ “the orchestra is partially controlled by the neural patterns of a tiny computer brain. The resultant work takes the orchestra into an ethereal sound world of lush strings juxtaposed with the skittering crackles of neural activity.” Magnus Lindberg ’s ‘Engine’ (which dates back to 1996) “(was) inspired by the computing language associated with using the Patchwork1 programme. ‘Engine’ is a sort of generator of musical material, which operates according to the rules pre-established by the composer. The texture is composed by the machine, on which the composer imposes dozens of constraints.” Finally, Barry Guy’s 2015 piece ‘Mr Babbage is Coming to Dinner!’ “was inspired by Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2… The graphic score – hand-drawn and partially coloured by Barry Guy – is a work of art in itself (and) calls on spontaneity and improvisation from the orchestra.”

I tracked down a couple of previous performances of ‘Engine’ and ‘Cortical Songs’ for illustration, so here they are:



 

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