Tag Archives: Benjamin Britten

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 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.

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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…

 
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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:




 
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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).



 
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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:

 
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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

 

May 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – polygender opera with ‘Binary Optional’ at CPT (May 25th & 26th)

21 May

One of the month’s more interesting London opera events…

'Binary Optional', 25th & 26th May 2017

Oedipa & Lucia Lucas present:
‘Binary Optional’
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, Euston, London, NW1 2PY, England
Thurday 25th & Friday 26th May 2017, 9.00pm
information

From the press release, spliced with a little more research:

Oedipa collaborates with the extraordinary female baritone Lucia Lucas (Wuppertaler Bühnen, Deutsche Oper, Chicago Opera Theatre) on an evening of song in transition: from masc to femme, classical to queer and oppression to freedom.

“A freelance opera singer based in Germany (who has previously held full-time contracts with the Badisches Staatstheater, Kalsruhe, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin), Lucia Lucas is a strong dramatic baritone specializing in Verdi roles, and has sung roles including Ford in ‘Falstaff’, Iago in ‘Otello’, Escamillo in ‘Carmen’, Le Grand-Prêtre in ‘Samson et Dalilah’, Jochanaan in ‘Salome’, Alberich in ‘Das Rheingold’, Thoas in ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’, Figaro in ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, Leporello and Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’, Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’, Don Pizzaro in ‘Fidelio’ and Nick Shadow in ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

“Beyond this, Lucia is one of the small but growing number of transgender woman performing significant operatic roles (a list of singers which includes Breanna Sinclairé and Emily De Salvo, whose own unusual range covers baritone to soprano). As Lucia commented in an interview in ‘Slipped Disc’ a couple of years ago, “I am performing all of the same things. Still singing angry old men on stage, but fringe projects have also started appearing as possibilities”. ‘Binary Optional’ is one such project – singing Bizet, Britten, Wagner, Purcell and Adams, flirting with Sarah Vaughan and ‘Rocky Horror’, Lucia draws on her experience singing classical repertoire across the world to tell her incredible story and celebrate the fluidity and plurality of gender in opera.


 
“Oedipa is the alter ego of writer/director Finn Beames (who’s dedicated himself to working “against the male perspective”) and a diverse range of varying collaborators. As Oedipa, groups of artists create and produce live performances in theatre, opera and related forms, often with an emphasis on music.

“Based in London and working internationally, Finn won the 2015 Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic for his production of Man: 3 Plays by Tennessee Williams in the Clare theatre. He also holds the 2015 Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship, granted by the British Council for research into the eponymous Brazilian architect and the creation of a piece of theatre. For his own company, bodycorps, he recently directed a sold-out run of a new opera about depression, funded by The Wellcome Trust and ACE. Finn has commissioned further new work for bodycorps, including a musical based on The Sorrows of Young Werther. In 2014 Finn wrote, directed and designed a new music theatre work for the London Sinfonietta with composer Gavin Higgins, which they are currently expanding into a triptych. Finn is a director/librettist on the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh Music, and a member of the Young Vic Directors Network and Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York.”
 

September 2016 – upcoming London classical gigs – BBC Singers perform Jonathan Harvey tribute, also featuring music by Benjamin Britten and a Wim Henderickx premiere (23rd)

18 Sep

A quick reminder/primer for this week’s London concert paying tribute to the late British composer Jonathan Harvey and concentrating on his love for a cappella choral music:

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BBC Singers: ‘Other Presences: The Music of Jonathan Harvey’
LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, St Luke’s, London, EC1V 9NG, England
Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Other Presences - The Music of Jonathan Harvey“Haunting, spiritual, ecstatic: Jonathan Harvey’s music blurs the boundaries between east and west, body and soul. Its lucid, bell-like resonances and pioneering use of electronics will take you on a journey into new and transformative worlds.

“’Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco’ is an electro-acoustic masterpiece. Spinning sonorities ring out as it blends sound samples of a cathedral bell and the voice of a chorister. The looped, harmonised trumpet parts in ‘Other Presences’ weave sounds that echo the music of Tibetan Buddhist purification rituals. ‘Forms Of Emptiness’ sets the vivid flashes of joy in poetry by e.e cummings against a Buddhist Sanskrit chant, creating moments that feel transient and scarcely real.

“Experience Harvey’s compelling music alongside Britten’s virtuosic cantata ‘A.M.D.G.’ and a new work by Wim Henderickx, whose music reflects his fascination for eastern sound-worlds and philosophies.”

Performers:

BBC Singers – choir
Martyn Brabbins – conductor
Marco Blaauw – trumpet
Sound Intermedia – electronics

Programme:

Benjamin Britten – ‘A.M.D.G. Op.17’ (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam)
Jonathan Harvey – ‘Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘I Love The Lord’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘The Annunication’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘Other Presences’
Wim Henderickx – ‘Blossomings’ (world premiere)
Jonathan Harvey – ‘Forms Of Emptiness’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘How Could The Soul Not Take Flight’

There’s more on the Wim Henderickx piece in a post penned by the composer himself at ‘Classical Diary’. In it, Wim discusses the interest in Buddhism and spirituality which he shared with Jonathan Harvey, and which led to his composing ‘Blossomings’ as both a salute to Harvey and a triptych setting of texts from different and parallel religious traditions, starting with eighteenth century Tibetan Buddhism (‘From the blossoming lotus’ by Jigme Lingpa), twelfth century Christianity (Hildegard of Bingen’s ‘Holy Spirit’) and 13th century Islam (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī’s poem ‘O love’ (text by Rumi). As well as going deeper into the significance of the chosen texts, Wim also comments on the musical structure of the piece, with its inspirations of Tibetan open-air ceremonial music, its use of mixed choir performing multiple functions, the double bell trumpet employed by the soloist as commenter and introducer, and the way in which optional electronics “create a sonorous background of the harmonic material sung by the choir (and) give the work a spatial effect.”

Meanwhile, here are versions of some of the other material on the concert programme, drawn from a variety of sources:





 

August/September/December 2016 – music dramas in London and Edinburgh: Héloïse Werner & Jonathan Woolgar’s ‘Scenes From The End’ (10th to 27th August variously, plus more in December) and Zoe Lewis’ ‘Britten in Brooklyn’ (31st August-17th September)

4 Aug

Some news on a couple of pieces of music drama showing in London and Edinburgh this month – one a fully-fledged conceptual solo piece (involving original contemporary classical compositions and diverse performance techniques), the other a more conventional theatrical play themed around the wartime exile of Benjamin Britten.

Here’s a little more information about each of them (combed, shaped and styled in a hurry, from the press releases).

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Héloïse Werner's 'Scenes From The End'

‘Scenes from the End’ is a tour-de-force showcase for Héloïse Werner – soprano, sometime cellist and member of (amongst others) contemporary classical ensemble The Hermes Experiment, vocal ensemble Shards and original folk bands The Coach House Company and The Amazing Devil.

“Héloïse’s increasing interest in the dramatic potential of the unaccompanied voice has led her to experiment with a wide range of more contemporary techniques. ‘Scenes from the End’ is a fully staged, physical drama that combines classical and operatic vocal techniques, as well as improvisation, acting and body percussion. In it, Héloïse aims to confront the audience with the uncomfortable themes of death and grief, challenging them to reevaluate their own attitudes towards these difficult issues.

‘Scenes from the End’ is a collaboration with young composer Jonathan Woolgar (a previous award-winner of the BBC Proms Young Composers’ Competition) and with director Emily Burns. Using a colourful array of vocal and theatrical means, the show paints historic, comic and tragic pictures of “the end”, from the heat-death of the universe to the end of an individual life. This is virtuoso music theatre on a scale that is both cosmic and intimate.”

‘Scenes From The End’ is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with a couple of preview performances in London a week and a half beforehand. There’ll be a further run of London performances in December.

Camden Fringe Festival @ Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2PY, England
Wednesday 10th August 2016 & Thursday 11th August 2016, 7.15pm
information

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Lime Studio @ Greenside (Nicholson Square), 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9BX, Scotland
Monday 22nd August 2016 to Saturday 27th August 2016 1.55pm
information

Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9NP
Tuesday 6th December 2016 to Saturday 10th December 2016, 7.30pm (plus one 3pm performance on the 10th)
– no information online yet

Although Héloïse is someone I’d like to catch up with for a chat at some point, for the moment I’d better point you in the direction of this recent interview she’s done (freshly published today!) with the LaLaLa Records vocal music homepage, covering ‘Scenes From The End’ and several of her other projects.

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'Britten In Brooklyn'

“Based on true events, the world premiere of Zoe Lewis‘s passionate and thought-provoking play Britten In Brooklyn takes place in the beautiful and unique setting of Wilton’s Music Hall. Starring Sadie Frost and directed by Oli Rose, it plays for a strictly limited season of 21 performances.

“New York City, 1940. A dilapidated house in Brooklyn Heights. The bohemian lifestyle of Benjamin Britten, WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee in the artistic community at 7 Middagh Street starts to unravel as World War II becomes a brutal reality. Exiled in America for his beliefs and a national disgrace, Benjamin Britten must decide which way his conflicted political ideals lie but the constant parties, doomed affairs and John Dunne, the mysterious stranger, provide an easy distraction.”

‘Britten in Brooklyn’
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Wednesday 31st August 2016 to Saturday 17th September 2016, 7.30pm (plus 2.30pm matinee performance on Wednesdays and Saturdays)
information
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


 

* * * * * * * *

Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

 

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.





 

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