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Benjamin Britten

Monday, June 27, 2016


Iron Tongue of Midnight

June 24

Shakespeare at the Opera

Iron Tongue of Midnight A fantasy opera entry; a long, long season of operas based on Shakespeare, including Doppelgangers and also a....what the heck would those trios be called? Britten, A Midsummer Night's DreamPurcell, The Fairy QueenThomas, Hamlet (even though I consider it mediocre at best!)Verdi, OtelloRossini, OtelloBellini, I CapuletiGounod, Romeo et Juliette (hey, on record it sounds a lot better than Faust)Berlioz, Romeo et JulietteVerdi, FalstaffNicolai, Merry Wives of WindsorVaughan Williams, Sir John in Love (even though it doesn't sound that good on record)Reimann, LearVerdi, MacbethAdès, The TempestHoiby, The TempestBerlioz, Beatrice et BenedictWagner, Das Liebesverbot

Naxos Blog

June 24

Nightingales

One of my earliest teaching positions was at Repton School in the UK. I recently donated a letter to the school’s archives that I found silted up in my ancient piles of correspondence. It’s one I received from the tenor Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten’s companion, whilst I was a young master at the school; in it he mentions that his great uncle, Steuart Adolphus Pears, had been Head Master of Repton from 1854 to 1874, a distinguished connection that had somehow grown hazy in the mists of time. The reason for the visits in 1955 and 1960 by Britten and Pears to perform in the Repton School Subscription Concerts, sparsely documented in the annals, becomes clearer. Some of you may recognise the name Repton from the tune which is sung to the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. An erstwhile Director of Music at Repton had figured that a particular tune from Parry’s oratorio Judith was a bit of a cracker, and so in it went to the school’s hymn book supplement in 1924, subsequently baptised ‘Repton’. But what has this got to do with the subject of this week’s blog—nightingales? Not a lot, except that I was intrigued to discover another musical connection with Repton shortly after taking up my post there. One of my favourite songs had always been A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (8.120663 ), and I learned that the lyrics were written by Eric Maschwitz, a Repton Old Boy. So, this week, I’d like to develop that seed and present a number of works that have an association with the nightingale, beginning with that perennial favourite of mine by Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin. The next two pieces (and there are many more) were inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Nightingale, in which an emperor takes more pleasure from the sounds of a mechanical bird than the song of a real nightingale. Favole (8.555267 ) by Elisabetta Brusa is a suite the composer dedicated to her godson on the occasion of his birth. The second movement, The Real Nightingale and the Mechanical One, is described by Brusa as follows: “[Note] the difference between the lyrical melody of the real nightingale (flute) and the more rhythmical and less emotional melody…of the mechanical bird played by the piccolo and the glockenspiel; all of a sudden the mechanical nightingale breaks down, onomatopoeically expressed by the glissandi of the strings and by the sound of the rattle at the end of the last carillon-like section, so the real nightingale is able to triumph with its lyrical singing.” Here it is . Stravinsky’s The Nightingale (8.557501 ) was first performed in Paris in 1914; it’s a one-act opera in three scenes. Here’s how Robert Craft, the distinguished authority on Stravinsky, described the work’s orchestration: “Stravinsky’s orchestral palette…is never more exotically colourful than in The Nightingale, which is a virtual catalogue of avian imitations: tremolos, trills, appogiaturas, grupetti string harmonics, pizzicato glissandos, flautando and ponticello effects, harp and piano arpeggios, harp harmonics and the retuning of cello strings to produce harmonics on unusual pitches.” You can have fun hunting these down for yourself. Meanwhile, here’s an extract from Scene 2 (The Porcelain Palace of the Chinese Emperor): Song of the Nightingale . The Spanish composer Enrique Granados wrote two books of Goyescas, piano pieces that were inspired by his compatriot Francisco Goya and his ability to depict what Granados saw as the essence of the Spanish character. One of the Goyescas is titled The Maiden and the Nightingale (8.554403 ). The piece is basically a set of variations, but it ends with a cadenza that imitates the song of a nightingale . Edvard Grieg wrote more than 180 songs, but his relationship with singers was frequently one of dissatisfaction with their interpretation of his works. He wrote in his diary of 1906: What are singers? Nothing but vanity, stupidity, ignorance and dilettantism. I hate them, every one of them. ‘Also your wife?’, one will ask, but I answer: ‘I am sorry, but she is lucky enough not to be a singer.’ Hopefully, Grieg would have reconsidered his opinion after hearing this performance of part of his song, The Nightingale’s Secret (8.553781 ), which tells of a nightingale’s discretion in witnessing the amorous encounter of two lovers. Finally, a charming snatch that’s worth 60 seconds of anyone’s time: The Nightingale from Boris Tchaikovsky’s Swineherd Suite (8.572400 ), again based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It tells of the efforts of a lovesick Prince to gain the attentions of a Princess, which include the offering of two special gifts: one is an uncommonly beautiful rose; the other a silver-throated nightingale whose beguiling song is captured on the piccolo against a backdrop of harp and strings Oh, and very finally, having worked there for a while not too long ago, I can report that, sadly, nightingales are nowadays seldom heard singing in London’s Berkeley Square.




Royal Opera House

June 22

Anvils as instruments? Why every orchestra could do with some heavy metal

A blacksmith shaping metal using an anvil As any cellist, harpist, or (perish the thought) double bassist will tell you, there are few things more annoying than lugging your over-sized pride and joy to and from rehearsals, jamming it into the back of a car, crushing through the barriers on the tube, or inelegantly dragging it up and down flights of stairs. These are the large instrument-playing unfortunates who are routinely pestered with that most infamous of muso cat-calls: 'Bet you wish you'd taken up the flute?'. Spare a thought, then, for the ill-fated player of an altogether more cumbersome orchestral instrument: the anvil. The epitome of a heavy and clumsy object - perfect for dropping onto a cartoon villain should the need arise - this hardened steel surface is designed to be struck with an enormous hammer; the larger the better. A fact which makes its popularity on the opera stage, most notably, in Verdi 's smash hit, Il trovatore , all the more surprising. How on earth are performers expected to get it to and from the rehearsals (and, of course, the pub afterwards)? While this line of argument is, of course, to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, the fact is that this unlikely hunk of metal has made quite an impact on the world of classical music. Despite its size and its hugely limited range, this forged steel block is a key player in Verdi's middle-period masterpiece, in the unimaginatively nicknamed 'Anvil Chorus' (otherwise, known with much more zip as the 'Coro di zingari'). Verdi's musical direction in the score is that the singers, not the percussionist, should be the ones to hit the anvils in time to the music, with basses playing on the beat, and tenors on the offbeat. As the large Italian chorus sing the praises of hard work, good wine, and gypsy women, the effect is striking in every sense of the word: the dull chime of the anvil adds a unique tone to the now famous tune, and there's something quite hypnotic about the view of a stage full of people hitting hammers on every other beat as they sing. But it's not just Verdi who saw the anvil's potential on the opera stage. Wagner , true to form, pushed the boat out in Das Rheingold , using not one, but 18 anvils - nine small, six medium, and three large - tuned to F three octaves apart. Siegfried , too, made use of the instrument's trademark timbre, unsurprisingly in the 'forging song', 'Hoho! Hoho! Hohei!', as Siegfried carefully crafts his sword. Wagner's considerable influence on heavy metal has never been more literal. When attempting to bring suitably metallic pieces to life, other big-hitting composers turned to the anvil: Britten and Walton both used the instrument to conjure a ‘Babylonian’ sound in their works. In The Burning Fiery Furnace, Britten uses the anvil, alongside a lyra glockenspiel and small cymbals to take his audiences back in time, musically. Walton, too, in Belshazzar's Feast, puts the metallic sound to good use in ‘Praise’: as the chorus sing praises to the gods of various materials, the composer brings appropriate instruments to the fore – trumpets for the god of gold, flutes for the god of silver, and anvils for the god of iron. More recently, anvils have made their mark in the worlds of film music, minimalism, and pop, as composers used the instrument’s metallic properties to add depth to their pieces. Howard Shore , John Williams , and James Horner have each used it in film scores, and Louis Andriessen wrote an extended passage for solo anvils in his work De Materie (Matter), with text on the subject of shipbuilding. Even former Beatle Ringo Starr dabbled in anvil playing in arguably its most mainstream outing: the darkly eccentric hit Maxwell's Silver Hammer. While a ‘concerto for anvil’ may not top the classical charts any time soon, there’s no doubt that this obscure instrument has forged something of a niche for itself. And in a time-poor age where we're constantly being told to work fitness into our daily regime , which other instruments allow their player to get a full-on workout and save on a gym membership while performing? One thing's for sure - you can't say that for the dainty flute. Il trovatore runs 2–17 July 2016. Tickets are still available . The production will be broadcast live for free to outdoor screens around the UK on 14 July 2016. Find your nearest screen .

Royal Opera House

June 22

Remembering designer Desmond Heeley

Stuart Burrows as Leicester and Joan Sutherland as Maria Stuarda in Maria Stuarda, The Royal Opera. Photograph by Donald Southern © 1977 ROH British designer Desmond Heeley (1931–2016) was renowned on both sides of the Atlantic for his imaginative designs in theatre, opera and ballet. He created a number of designs for the Royal Opera House companies, working with choreographers Kenneth MacMillan and John Cranko and with opera director John Copley . Heeley’s designs for Covent Garden, and elsewhere, always created a vivid impression, grand and colourful yet, when necessary, intimate and personal. Heeley’s first credit with the Royal Opera House was for Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet (later Birmingham Royal Ballet ), working on MacMillan’s Solitaire in 1956. Heeley had originally created the set designs for Cranko’s The Angels, but when the ballet was delayed Ninette de Valois insisted the designs be used in Solitaire – much influencing MacMillan’s concept of the ballet. MacMillan subtitled Solitaire ‘A kind of game for one’ and Heeley’s designs reflect and enhance the ballet’s light-hearted tone. Anya Linden as The Girl and members of The Royal Ballet in Solitaire. Photograph by Roger Wood © 1958 Royal Opera House Later that year Heeley made his debut with Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) on a major world premiere, creating costume designs for Cranko’s The Prince of the Pagodas, with an original score by Benjamin Britten . Artist and regular Britten-collaborator John Piper designed the sets. The production was last seen at Covent Garden in 1960. The Telegraph’s obituary for designer Desmond Heeley Heeley’s further credits at Covent Garden were on two productions for The Royal Opera with Copley. In 1974 Heeley designed sets and costumes for a new production of Gounod’s Faust, with a wonderful cast including Stuart Burrows , Norman Treigle and Kiri Te Kanawa . Heeley conceived the production on a grand scale, with Te Kanawa singing the Jewel Song in a leafy, tree-lined glade, while the Soldiers’ Chorus saw magnificent banners swirling around the stage. The production remained in the repertory until 1986, with future casts including Mirella Freni and Alfredo Kraus . Heeley returned to The Royal Opera in 1977 to design sets and costumes for Copley’s new production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, with Joan Sutherland in the title role, Huguette Tourangeau as Elisabetta and Burrows as Leicester. Heeley provided fine Tudor gowns with ruffs and designs that captured the very essence of this bel canto drama. What are your memories of Heeley’s designs?



Royal Opera House

June 22

Opera Essentials: Iain Bell’s In Parenthesis

Alexandra Deshorties (Queen of the Woods) and Andrew Bidlack (Private John Ball) in In Parenthesis © WNO 2016. Photograph by Bill Cooper The story begins… Private John Ball and his platoon of Royal Welch Fusiliers travel from Southampton to France. Throughout the journey John experiences increasingly nightmarish visions. The platoon receives orders to join the Battle of the Somme, and find themselves taking part in the assault on Mametz Wood. At dawn, a chorus of dryads are heard from within the forest – do they bring death or rebirth? Inspired by the work of a soldier poet The opera In Parenthesis is based on the epic prose-poem of the same name by Welsh painter and poet David Jones – acclaimed by T.S. Eliot on its 1937 publication as ‘a work of genius’. Jones studied at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts before the outbreak of World War I interrupted his studies. He enlisted as a private with the London Welsh Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and went on to survive the battles of Mametz Wood and Ypres . His horrific wartime experiences fed into In Parenthesis, though Jones did not intend it solely ‘as a “War Book”… I should prefer it to be about a good kind of peace’. Listen: Actor Michael Sheen reads the warrior’s boast from In Parenthesis Honed for the operatic stage Librettists David Antrobus and Emma Jenkins originally intended to adapt In Parenthesis as a play – but as work progressed they found the poem’s intensity made it ‘perfect for the bold conceptual medium of opera’. 'It is so musical, so mellifluous, so evocative of a textured soundscape that we were convinced this would be a gift to any composer’, say the creative team. Antrobus and Jenkins carefully drew out from Jones’s dense and highly allusive writing a simpler thread that would work onstage, ultimately focussing on Jones’s alter ego in the poem, Private John Ball: ‘Ball is our Orpheus descending into the Wasteland of war and emerging miraculously alive after an ordeal that should have ended in certain death.’ A full-scale opera Composer Iain Bell is best known for his vocal music, acclaimed for its colour and nuance across a variety of genres. In his previous operas, A Christmas Carol (with Simon Callow) and The Harlot’s Progress (with Diana Damrau ), Bell collaborated closely with the librettists on the text. In Parenthesis was in some ways a reversal of that process, as Bell started with the finished libretto – but he still immersed himself in the text, working extensively with Antrobus and Jenkins: ‘only then was I ready to start writing’. The finished score weaves in many influences – Welsh folk song, bel canto vocal writing ‘subverted into a contemporary canvas’, an inventive palette of orchestral effects for Ball’s visions and extensive writing for WNO’s brilliant chorus – in reflection of Jones’s rich imagery and language. Acts of remembrance In Parenthesis is part of 14–18 NOW , a programme of cultural commissions to mark the centenary of World War I. The opera’s 2016 premiere coincides with the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, in which Jones fought and where he lost so many of his comrades, commemorated in In Parenthesis. 2016 also marks the 70th anniversary of Welsh National Opera ’s first production – although the company was first conceived of in 1943, when the nation was in the grip of another war. David Pountney , Artistic Director of WNO and director of In Parenthesis, pays tribute to the committee of Welsh amateur musicians who sought ‘to forge a cultural initiative that explicitly embraced European culture as a whole’. Recommended if you like… Turnage’s The Silver Tassie Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Adès’s The Tempest In Parenthesis runs at the Royal Opera House 29 June–1 July 2016. Tickets are still available . The production was commissioned by the Nicholas John Trust, with 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions , supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England and by the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

ArtsJournal: music

June 21

Vice President, Artistic Programming and Executive Producer, Caramoor

ABOUT CARAMOOR Our mission is to enrich the lives of audiences through innovative and diverse musical performances of the highest quality, mentor young professional musicians, and engage children through interactive, educational experiences that deepen their relationship to and understanding of music. These three prongs – music performance, musician mentoring, and music education – infuse everything we do. Located on a 90-acre campus in Katonah, New York, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit arts center that has been in continuous operation since 1946. It presents approximately 70 live music performances throughout the year in a wide range of genres, culminating in a major summer festival starting in June through early August. Performances take place on four stages (indoors and outdoors) and throughout the gardens. Caramoor also trains the next generation of classical musicians and provides music-based arts education to local schoolchildren. Through its public programs and community events, Caramoor annually serves 50,000 people. Caramoor was the inspiring summer home of arts patrons Lucie and Walter Rosen who opened their estate in 1946 to welcome artists and audiences to be inspired by music in the context of their beautiful gardens, historic buildings, and art. They engaged Julius Rudel to mount operas, including a Benjamin Britten premiere. Subsequently, Caramoor has featured the leading artists of the 20th and 21st Century including Andre Previn, Beverly Sills, Alicia de Larrocha , Yo-Yo Ma, Kristian Zimerman, Itzhak Perlman, Roger Norrington, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Sonny Rollins, Joshua Bell, Chick Corea, Emmy Lou Harris, Audra McDonald, Emanuel Ax, Wynton Marsalis, and Alisa Weilerstein. POSITION OVERVIEW: VICE PRESIDENT, ARTISTIC PROGRAMMING AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Overview The VAPP is responsible for helping to develop, refine, and implement Caramoor’s artistic mission into a unified vision: performances, mentoring programs, education programs, lectures, and special programming projects. The VPP ensures that all programming meets Caramoor’s values of artistry, discovery, collaboration, friendliness, and integrity, as well as leverages the unique setting Caramoor offers. Reporting Relationships The VAPP reports directly to the CEO and is a key member of Caramoor’s Senior Staff team. The VAPP manages all key artistic relationships including the current directors for Opera, Roots, Rising Stars, Family programs; the VPP also manages existing collaborations with Jazz at Lincoln Center, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Katonah Museum of Arts. In addition, the VPP manages the Education Coordinator and Rosen House Manager and works with them to develop and implement programs that support Caramoor’s mission. Supporting the VPP are two full-time staff members (Manager of Artistic Planning & Opera Administrator and Artistic Coordinator), as well as a contract Executive Producer for the Jazz collaboration, along with Caramoor’s Technical Director and his team. Primary Responsibilities Programming Responsible for working with the CEO and artistic team in leading the development of all of Caramoor’s 70+ programs each year – Symphonic: work directly with the leadership of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and other ensembles in planning the orchestra series – Opera: work directly with the Opera Director to plan future titles and establish the scope of the program – Chamber: program the chamber music series throughout the year – Rising Stars: work with the Artistic Directors to program these various chamber music performances as well as to take the lead in selecting the Ernst Steifel Quartet-In-Residence each year – Jazz: work with the programming team at Jazz at Lincoln Center to develop each year’s festival and jazz series – American Roots: work with the Artistic Director to develop each year’s festival and Roots series – American Songbook: Program an appropriate artist each year and work with our cabaret advisor in programming the annual Cabaret Night – Family Programs: Work with our Artistic Director to select and develop appropriate programs to engage young children Ensure all programs are consistent with Caramoor’s values of artistry, discovery, collaboration, friendliness, and integrity Oversee Caramoor’s Education Coordinator and the Education Program to ensure quality, innovation, and integration with other elements of Caramoor and its mission Oversee Caramoor’s Rosen House Manager and the Rosen House public programs to ensure quality, innovation, and integration with other elements of Caramoor and its mission Assist other departments in their programming needs for private events Innovate additional programming ideas by staying in touch with other area arts institutions and their programs. Artist Relationship Management Manage and develop long-term relationships with our Artistic Directors, collaborators, alumni artists, and key artists Work with Caramoor’s staff to ensure that all visiting artists are well cared for during their experience Collaborate with Marketing and Development to facilitate communications with artists in order to engage our audiences and donors Foster good relationships with other related organizations and opinion leaders Maintain relationships with artists and attend area concerts Producing the Experience Experiences at Caramoor center on music, but are closely intertwined with all other facets of Caramoor including the gardens, food, social activities, lectures, the Rosen House. The goals is to ensure the integrity of the music experience but also seek opportunities to integrate the music experience into other non-performance elements of Caramoor Manage Caramoor’s Technical Director to ensure that each performance is properly produced in an effective and efficient manner and work with other departments to ensure non-artistic elements are appropriately integrated Oversee the recording of any of Caramoor’s performances when applicable and work closely with marketing on its production and distribution Communication Ensure that all program information is communicated effectively and timely to Caramoor staff, artists, and trustees Work closely with the artists and staff to ensure that all messaging appropriately expresses Caramoor’s artistic vision Serve as an external spokesperson about Caramoor’s programming to audiences, press, staff/volunteers, and with donors as needed Administration Work closely with the CEO, CFO, and artistic team on the programing budgets to ensure accurate and appropriate expenditures Maintain program development plans for three years out Attend and participate in volunteer leadership meetings as needed, including Board of Trustees, Executive Committee, and Advisory Council Oversee the management of Caramoor’s artistic archives CANDIDATE QUALIFICATIONS: Professional Deep musical background acquired through study or performance Master curator with eclectic taste in music combined with experience curating programs in a wide range of musical genres including chamber music, opera, symphonic, jazz, American folk and the American Songbook Knowledge of, or relationships with, musical artists, their repertoire and accomplishments Proven experience negotiating with artists’ agents Strategic, curious thinker who is inquisitive about new trends and anxious to keep up with the NY performing arts scene Understanding of production requirements and technical necessities Demonstrated effectiveness in budgeting Personal Poised, articulate and persuasive public speaker Ability to lead and inspire a talented in-house staff and outside collaborators Creative and collaborative nature with demonstrated history of inclusion of ideas from colleagues, subordinates and supporters and the ability to synthesize components into interesting projects and programs Self-starter who handles responsibilities and competing demands with tact, compassion and creativity Collaborator and excellent listener Exemplary communications skills Proven ability to work in a highly collaborative environment, be detail oriented and meet deadlines in a timely manner. For additional programming information please view the website at https://www.caramoor.org Compensation: Competitive with excellent benefits package. For consideration: Applicants and sources should call or send credentials immediately to: Our client is an equal opportunity employer.

Benjamin Britten
(1913 – 1976)

Benjamin Britten (22 November 1913 - 4 December 1976) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. Showing prodigious talent from an early age – he composed his Quatre Chansons françaises for soprano and orchestra at the age of fourteen – he first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945 Britten leapt to international fame, and for the next fifteen years he devoted much of his compositional attention to writing operas, several of which now appear regularly on international stages. Britten's interests as a composer were wide-ranging; he produced important music in such varied genres as orchestral, choral, solo vocal (much of it written for the tenor Peter Pears), chamber and instrumental, as well as film music. Britten also took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers, and was considered a fine pianist and conductor.



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