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The British Music Society has again collaborated again with Nigel Foster’s London Song Festival in presenting the British Art Song Competition (BASC) 2016, adjudicated by Sir Thomas Allen.
To watch Sir Thomas Allen give a masterclass is to watch a performance in itself - in turn witty, serious and humorous. As well as being a great singer, he is a great actor able to immerse himself in the world of the poet and bring to life the characters and imaginary scenes with conviction and amazing insight. The audience was swept along by his passion for British Art Song and one singer aptly summed up the occasion by saying “this is such an honour” as she walked toward the raised platform for her turn in the masterclass/competition.
The fourteen finalists had been narrowed down from sixty-seven applicants (a far greater number than last year). Most were British but Vivien Conacher hailed from Australia and Julien van Mellaerts from New Zealand, and both Clare Tunney (3rd place winner) and Liam McNally made a special point of informing the audience they were from the north of England.
Sir Thomas Allen encouraged the singers to enjoy themselves. Attention was drawn to the importance of having ‘brightness’in the sound, the ability to ‘spin’ a line and think horizontally to the very end of a melody and beyond, rather than being obsessed with each note in a more vertical approach. Sir Thomas’s approach was flexible and never dogmatic, and he would lighten the serious nature of the art of singing with a sudden quip beautifully delivered: “if you don’t breathe, you die—it’s a well-known fact”. Beth Margaret Taylor from Glasgow was told to let go and relish the celestial harps in ‘King David’: “It’s Hollywood. Don’t tell Herbert Howells I said that!” This song was one of Sir Thomas Allen’s favourites as was Frank Bridge’s ‘Come to me in my dreams’, the latter being regarded by him as a gift to singers: “this is what singing has got to be about.”
At the end of the masterclass, Thomas Isherwood accompanied by Patrick Milne was awarded the £500 First Prize donated by the John Ireland Trust who will also be sending Thomas a five volume publication of Ireland songs. He has completed his Masters at the GSMD where he now plans to attend Opera School. Thomas sang Finzi’s ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ and it was clear Sir Thomas was pleased with his performance of Ireland’s ‘When I grow old’ when he expressed his satisfaction with the unusual phrase: “We’ve got to the pub, we might have a couple of pints now.”
Nigel Foster’s 2017 London Song Festival will invite Thomas to perform as part of his award.
Other prize winners included Felix Kemp with pianist Somi Kim singing Ireland’s ‘Great Things’ and Mary Plumstead’s ‘Ha’nacker Mill’ in second place.
In third place was Clare Tunney and her performance of Ireland’s ‘If there were dreams to sell’ and Bridge’s ‘O that it were so’ with her accompanist Matthew Ryan. Both the second and third place recipients received the Stephen and Diana Trowell Prizes. Sir Thomas wished it were possible to award a fourth place to encourage the talents of Heather Caddick accompanied by Nigel Foster who, with only three weeks before giving birth, gave an admirable performance of Ireland’s ‘The Salley Gardens’ and Walton’s ‘Daphne’.
A rich vein of British Art Song was exhibited in the masterclass and there is much more to say but then again, if you want to know more, you should have been there! The event was first-class, from the administration and organising of the event by the London Song Festival Artistic Director, Nigel Foster, the finalists and their pianists, Sir Thomas Allen (of course), the prizes (which included a BMS Composer Profile book and a song CD for every singer) to the beautiful ballroom kindly donated by Sir Vernon and Lady Ellis complete with tea, coffee and cake in the interval. I’m pleased to say that our audience size was much greater this year too. Stay tuned for details of BASC 2017!
2016 Finalists and their programmes:
Rhiannon Llewellyn and Finnegan Downie Dear
John Ireland – Her Song.
William Walton – Through Gilded Trellises
Julien van Mellaerts and Somi Kim
John Ireland – Santa Chiara
Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Roadside Fire
Eleanor Sanderson Nash and Alex Jenkins
John Ireland – If there were dreams to sell
Armstrong Gibbs – Arrogant Poppies
Felix Kemp and Somi Kim
John Ireland – Great Things
Plumstead – Ha'nacker Mill
Ben Vonberg-Clark and Neus Peris (unfortunately could not take part)
John Ireland – In Boyhood
Jonathan Dove – Out of Winter IV
Vivien Conacher and Somi Kim
John Ireland – Her Song
Henry Purcell – Mad Bess
Hugo Heman-Wilson and Jo Ramadan
John Ireland – Summer Schemes
Gerald Finzi – To Lizzbie Browne
Dierdre McCabe and Chad Vindin
John Ireland – What art thou thinking of?
Benjamin Britten - Nocturne
Beth Margaret Taylor and Nigel Foster
John Ireland – Friendship in Misfortune.
Herbert Howells – King David
Thomas Isherwood and Patrick Milne
John Ireland – When I grow old
Gerald Finzi – Fear no more the heat o' the sun
Heather Caddick and Nigel Foster
John Ireland – The Salley Gardens,
William Walton - Daphne
Clare Tunney and Matthew Ryan.
John Ireland – If there were dreams to sell.
Frank Bridge – O that it were so
Liam McNally and Nigel Foster
John Ireland – When lights go rolling round the sky.
Ivor Gurney – In Flanders
Olivia Warburton and Máire Carroll
John Ireland – The Trellis
Frank Bridge – Come to me in my dreams
Finalists at the 2016 competition. From left to right, Olivia Warburton, Vivien Conacher, Sir Thomas Allen, Beth Margaret Taylor, Clare Tunney (3rd place), Thomas Isherwood (1st place), Heather Caddick (Highly Commended), Dierdre McCabe, Liam McNally, Maire Carroll (pianist), Matthew Ryan (pianist) and Nigel Foster (Artistic Director of London Song Festival).
The British Music Society held a successful British Music Symposium as part of the 300th Three Choirs Festival in Hereford on Friday 31st July.
The event took place in the prestigious Left Bank complex on the banks of the river Wye, close to the cathedral in Hereford and picked up on musical themes found in the festival programme. Two talks formed the main events of the day. Edward Clark covered “The influence of Sibelius on British Music” while Paul Spicer talked on “The music of Arthur Bliss”. Sibelius’ 5th Symphony was performed back to back with Arthur Bliss’ Morning Heroes in the Cathedral on Monday 27th July.
In the afternoon session, the BMS held its AGM as part of the symposium - a great opportunity for Society members to meet each other- and a selection of CDs and publications was on sale from their ever-expanding catalogue.
To finish the day, we were delighted to welcome our new President, the cellist Raphael Wallfisch, who gave a short recital of British music.
TEE-HEE! Laurel and Hardy stand guard at the front of Ulverston’s quaint Coronation Hall. But there’s no joke in the locals’ artistic appreciation and the Lake District town’s lauded Music Festival proved this beyond any doubt.
The welcoming statues faithfully commemorate the birthplace of comedian Stan Laurel. But behind this historic comedy façade there’s some serious music culture afoot. An admirably assured delivery of Mozart and Beethoven emphasised a message so sadly often ignored by the UK’s musical elite.
Ulverston’s Music Festival, an annual event, shows there’s more to British classical musical life than the likes of London’s famous Albert and Festival Hall venues. Come and hear it among the seductive rolling hills of the Lake District and you will be delighted to uncover at grass roots level artistic skills that demonstrate a deep-seated bucolic love for all music. Here, in the provinces, what is lost in glamour and showmanship is gained by overwhelming enthusiasm and earthy energy.
Ask any one of the 400 appreciative listeners who revelled in the mastery of the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra (a good mix of young and experienced players), marshalled with commitment by a lively Thomas Carroll, who manipulated his baton in a forthright style, a-la-Bernstein.
Carroll built up such a communicative bond with his players and audience that at one point he addressed his listeners with a dramatic theory of what had inspired Beethoven to write the dreamy adagio of his Fourth Symphony. It was Beethoven’s love for “Therese”, he said, giving a storyline of some soap-opera appeal.
Muffled acoustics in this magnificent ivory and turquoise blue painted hall were overcome by some excellent playing from a 36-strong Sage-based Chamber Orchestra which played with complete conviction. Particularly impressive was the hypnotic swaying and playing by a young female flautist - particularly eye and ear catching.
There was also some articulate keyboard work in Beethoven’s 5th Concerto from the ardent stand-in soloist, Martin Roscoe, (replacing the originally planned soloist, Festival founder, Anthony Hewitt, temporarily incapacitated by a shoulder injury after falling from his cycle). Mr Roscoe emphasised his considerable keyboard dexterity with a slight over-use of the loud pedal. Too much fortissimo at the expense of pianissimo, I think.
This was an infinitesimal fly-in-the-ointment grumble though as Mr. Roscoe deftly made one of our old familiar friends ‘The Emperor’ convincingly sing from the mountain tops.
A charming chamber concert delivery of another old friend, Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ Overture, opened the night which ended with suitable roars and cheers of delight from an audience which showed that a thriving depth of musical understanding was alive and well north of the proverbial Watford Gap.
Just published: a two-volume work spanning the development of the British Symphony from the beginnings in the 18th century until well into the 20th century.
Author Jürgen Schaarwächter shines a light on those works that have to some extent been overshadowed, as well as on those that have remained unpublished or unperformed. The result is a multi-faceted panorama of British symphonism,
offering many insights into the composers’ thinking and their socio-cultural contexts.
A comprehensive catalogue of all known works and an extensive bibliography invite readers to delve further into the subject. Full details are on the publisher's website.
2 volumes. 2015, XXVIII/1201 pp., with 67 illustrations and numerous musical examples, hardcover, € 89.00
We would like to pay tribute to the late John McCabe, president of the British Music Society until 2014. John supported the BMS for many years and was involved in a number of excellent recordings, both as composer and performer. He gave great inspiration and direction to the work of the BMS.
Writing in "Gramophone" in 2014, Guy Rickards described John McCabe as "one of Britain’s finest composers in the past half-century" and "a pianist of formidable gifts and wide-ranging sympathies". You can read the whole article in "Gramophone" here.
Queens Park Junior Singers, Queens Park Community School, 22nd Nov 2014-11-24
Why on earth is Malcolm Williamson's Happy Prince not a standard repertoire piece? Why on earth, based on just the quality of this work alone, as well as other pieces of his that I know, is Malcolm Williamson not a staple of the concert repertoire? There are, of course, reasons for this – some historical, some to do with practical matters, such as not having a dynamic PR outfit working for him. But on the basis of this piece alone, it is incomprehensible that Williamson is not programmed regularly in every genre. Our Man in Havana should certainly be a repertoire staple in major opera houses, as should the String Symphony in concert halls (in which I played viola in the first performance with the Brent Symphony Orchestra), and many of his other choral and orchestral works.
The performance of the Happy Prince by the Queens Park Junior Singers conducted by Mary Phillips was as near perfect as you could wish. It's a dark tale (did Oscar Wilde, from the comfort of his mansion, really have so much empathy with the under-privileged?) and Williamson follows the story faithfully, making us feel the suffering, pain, desperation and anguish of all the 'normal' people, while pointing up the unfeeling pomposity of the elite through the character of the Mayor. I have the old Argo recording of the opera, performed by an adult cast, and it pales into insignificance compared to this production. It was written for children, and in this performance they brought absolutely the right sense of innocence and freshness to the work that made it come completely alive for me.
The work is modelled on Britten's children's opera 'Noyes Fludde' which the QPJS performed last year, so following that production with Williamson's piece is a logical step. The format is similar, an operatic formula with arias, ensembles and choruses. The orchestration is also modelled on Britten, with two keyboard parts and percussion. The optional string quintet was not included in this performance, and in fact was not missed. However that is as far as it goes, Williamson's opera is a very different beast to Britten's. Comparison is perhaps invidious, but for me the emotional impact of The Happy Prince is overwhelmingly more powerful than that of Noyes Fludde. This is in no way to diminish the Britten, a great piece, but the impact of the Happy Prince is so powerful, few would not be moved to tears. And on this occasion that was certainly the case. Williamson's writing here is uncompromising. The music of the afflicted individuals of the town is anguished and complex (the Author's music even being in 7/8) but so cleverly written that the complexity is not visited on the young performers, but carefully calibrated so that the vocal lines remain relatively simple, while the harmonic/emotional complexity is provided by the instrumental ensemble. This is never apparent as artifice – the music comes from, and goes directly to the heart. The two choruses, of children and slightly more complex elders, have music that while not too challenging, create an effect of complexity that exactly mirrors the story.
It would be pointless to praise individual performances here, it is such an ensemble piece, and every part, however small, seemed to be ideally cast and more than ably performed, sometimes astonishingly so, given the evident youth of the caste. But the Prince and the swallow carry the main weight of the action, and it would be hard to imagine a better performance than the13 year old Tara Shutes gave as the Swallow. Owen Davies as the Prince brought a heart-breaking intensity to his role, and the death scene of the two of them left very few dry eyes. Other smaller roles were equally moving; Sophie Timms as the seamstress brought a maturity of vocal sound and presence, while her sick son, Jibran Okerefe was completely convincing in his journey from illness to recuperation. Maxim Uys as the author was as captivating an actor as a singer, and his duet with the Prince was an emotional highlight in a work packed with emotional highlights. Nancy Randle as the Matchgirl almost stole the show with her characterful acting and singing, and Michaela Bibby was an odious Rich Girl, supported by her equally odious friends. The Mayor was performed with magnificent pomposity by Roger Bloomfield, the one evidently professional singer in the cast.
Holding the piece together was conductor Mary Phillips, an experienced singer, and here evidently an inspirational teacher. The instrumental ensemble was lead by the Australian pianist Antony Gray, who was a friend of Williamson, and who was responsible for the idea of performing the work. The tight ensemble work involved the percussionists Rebecca McChrystal and Enyi Ochei-Okpara and second pianist Lydia Aoki. The director was Freya Wynn-Jones, who produced a simple and direct production which got to the heart of the story without compromise for the youth of the majority of the cast.
Ultimately, the triumph – and it was a triumphant performance – was Williamson's. A work that has been rarely performed was here shown to be a masterwork, a piece that will move audiences to tears, that will give motivation and a real sense of achievement to performers young, old or anywhere in-between. Williamson wrote concert music that in my opinion should be concert hall standard repertoire, but in the Happy Prince he has created a work that crosses all boundaries, that transcends child/adult categories. The final scene, where the four Angels appear and the chorus sings an ecstatically beautiful hymn to the power of love is maybe one of the great operatic conclusions – and I have been to many operas.
Williamson's music has been absent from concert halls and opera stages for many years, and especially since his death more than ten years ago. The Happy Prince is reminder enough as to why it should return to prominence. I hope that this performance of the Happy Prince will be recorded, as surely what Williamson would have seen as the ideal performance.
Composition Tutor, Birmingham Conservatoire.
On 8th October at Kings Place, London, the pianist Penelope Thwaites celebrated the fortieth anniversary of her London debut with a programme that included a Grainger world premiere, appropriate enough for someone who throughout her career has constantly championed the Australian composer, not only in recitals and recordings but also by organising two major Grainger events or festivals in London (1998 and 2011) and editing The New Percy Grainger Companion (Boydell Press 2010). The evening began with the Bach-Liszt G minor Fantasia and Fugue, followed by four of Grieg’s op 72 Norwegian Peasant Dances. Penny then accompanied Heather Tuach, cellist of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, in the last movement of Grainger’s Scandinavian Suite, after which the Fitzwilliam gave spirited renderings of two folk-inspired works, the familiar Molly on the Shore (which as a reel is probably heard at its best in this version) and Died for Love.
The Piano Concerto movement in C minor (1896) which concluded the first half lasts about nine minutes and is the product of the thirteen-year-old Grainger while still in his first year of study at Frankfurt Konservatorium. It existed, in two-piano form, in a ‘spidery manuscript’ in the Grainger Museum at Melbourne and great credit is due to John Lavander who was chiefly responsible for producing a readable score and extricating the solo part from the very closely spaced notes. Although a few bars of the second movement also exist, Grainger progressed no further with the work, possibly because his teacher Karl Klimsch considered it too ‘florid’. However, Grainger did not reject the work as later, in a more adult script, he made a copy, with some variations in the harmony and lay-out.
For this premiere the movement was orchestrated by Benjamin Woodgates in early-Romantic style, the performers numbering seven violins, viola, two cellos, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. It emerged as a remarkably accomplished work for so young a student and a substantial show piece for the solo pianist, perhaps more a pianostück than a piano concerto, with a youthful vigour and tunefulness that in places recalled Mendelssohn and Mozart. While showing nothing in style of the mature Grainger, it was nevertheless well worth hearing.
The second half consisted of a fine performance of Dvorak’s A major Piano Quintet, and the evening concluded with two encores: a touching Reverie written by Penny for Ian Wallace, and Grainger’s ever popular Handel in the Strand.
When John McCabe had to stand down from the post of President of the British Music Society on grounds of ill health, we had to work hard in finding a replacement to carry on John's advocacy of British music.
Taking John's place will be the international cello soloist Raphael Wallfisch. Raphael is one of the most celebrated cellists performing on the worldwide stage. He was born in London into a family of distinguished musicians, his mother the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and his father the pianist Peter Wallfisch. He has already been connected with the BMS through five CD recordings (Arnold Cooke – String Sonatas; Kenneth Leighton – Chamber works for cello; Patric Standford – Cello Concerto; British Music for cello and piano; Maurice Jacobson – Chamber Music) and has long been an ardent advocate for our national composers.
We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership over the coming years and offer a warm welcome to Raphael and his family.
Chairman, British Music Society
Posted September 4, 2014
The London Song Festival this year runs from October 21 to November 27 2014. Many British works will be championed. The venue for the 2014 festival is Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, London NW3 1NG. Click on the video above to see Nigel Foster, Artistic Director talking about the festival. Further details are available on the London Song Festival website.
Posted July 10, 2014
The 2014 Ivors Award for Classical Music was presented to John McCabe at a glitzy ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House, on 22nd statuette was handed to him by Christopher Gunning, well-known for his TV and film music, including Poirot, but now also with much serious music to his credit, including seven symphonies. Despite his illness, John was able to make an acceptance speech at the ceremony, and was rewarded by a standing ovation. Many well-known names from the world of Pop were at the event, which is largely connected with that industry. Previous recipients of the Classical Award include Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir John Tavener, and Michel Nyman. McCabe is still busy composing, despite medical problems and treatment, and is currently finishing a short choral work for the Halle Choir (double choir/organ) , to be premiered later this year, and he is hopeful to go on to write other works also.
Posted June 4, 2014
On February 1st, distribution of BMS recordings moved from the Wyastone Estate to Select Music and Video Distribution Limited. At the same time, BMS CDs were reduced to mid price. With Select's greater penetration of world markets, especially in the Far East, where there is a known appetite for British Music, the BMS Committee expects the overall visibility of BMS recordings to be enhanced, not only on CD, but also in the various online delivery methods. A more radical step, and one that will increase the BMS profile even more, is that all new BMS recordings will appear on the Naxos label, which already has a proven track record in British music. The first two of these issues will appear in June: one is a CD of instrumental and vocal music by Maurice Jacobson, with his son Julian Jacobson as pianist, joined by his regular piano duo partner Mariko Brown, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, and cellist Raphael Wallfisch. Raphael Wallfisch also features on the other June Naxos/BMS issue: a compilation of music for cello and piano, selected from three existing BMS CDs. In music by William Busch, Kenneth Leighton, William Wordsworth and Arnold Cooke, he is partnered by the sadly-missed Raphael Terroni. Many existing BMS recordings will be reissued on the Naxos label over the next two years, as stocks of the originals become exhausted. Those that are more niche in appeal will continue to be available on the BMS label, as there is no intention to change the Society's policy of non-deletion.
Details of the current catalogue can be be found on the recordings section of the website.
Martin Cotton, Executive Committee, British Music Society.
Posted February 13, 2014