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Benjamin Britten

Monday, May 30, 2016


The Boston Musical Intelligencer

May 24

Desenclos’s Considerable Conservative Beauties

The Boston Musical Intelligencer Conductor John Ehrlich (file photo) As the forces of harmonic progress wrenched much of 20th-century music away from tonality, plenty of music-makers remained behind, not merely because of aesthetic disagreements about the sound of newer work, but because the very abandonment of traditional harmony made it much harder for the non-professional to participate in the music of their own time. These groups continue to be served by composers who have spoken with personal lyrical voices using tools and procedures that had been mainstream many decades before. I’m thinking not so much of Shostakovich or Britten in this respect, but of someone like Gerald Finzi, a composer of admittedly modest gifts and limited range who nevertheless created a handful of works that have wide appeal (I consider him a guilty pleasure). On Saturday night the Spectrum Singers introduced to Boston audiences a work that seems to have similar aspirations, the 1963 Requiem of Alfred Desenclos (1917-1971). If you’ve never heard of Desenclos, you are hardly alone. Music Director John Ehrlich’s program notes provide only a sketchy outline of a life—a Prix de Rome won in 1942, a choirmaster post in Paris—and Ehrlich is relying mostly on information provided by David Trendell in the CD leaflet in the only recording of the work on Delphian Records. The Requiem weaves a fabric of gauzy, suspended harmonies and straightforward lyric melodies that claims a kinship with those of Duruflé and Fauré. Its considerable beauty diffuses throughout the work, rarely being concentrated in any memorable moment. Hours later the only music I could call to mind was the opening phrase, perhaps because it reappeared verbatim when the text “Requiem aeternam” returned in later movements. My notes do recall a “aching, flatted” melody in the Offertoire, “keening, interwined” lines in the Pie Jesu, and a phrase that impressed me as “stately and flowing” in the Libera me. Spectrum did lovely work with this material; their sound is round and smooth, lithe rather than forceful, subtle rather than spectacular. Originally for chorus and orchestra, was offered using Desenclos’s own reduction for organ, which was understated and secondary to the voices; Justin Thomas Blackwell’s playing was appropriately restrained and deferential. Desenclos does employ a vocal quartet, here sung by eight different individuals, but the soloists function mostly as a textural variation; there’s little drama in this Requiem. Of the deservedly better known examples it can be noted that: Britten’s War Requiem had been debuted a year earlier; Ligeti began work on his in the same year. But their very ambition and complexity keeps them at arm’s length: Desenclos’s may well have a future in places where its familiarity and modesty constitute virtues. Preceding the Desenclos came a handful of works that might have been “influences” on the composer. Duruflé’s Meditation for organ solo from c. 1964 channeled quasi-improvised noodling that suddenly arrived at its ending, and Fauré’s obscure (and tentatively attributed) Benedictus from 1880 felt like amputated first section of a longer work. Justin Thomas Blackwell did what he could with the those, but had more success with Olivier Messiaen’s Banquet Celeste (1928), an early essay in foreboding and ecstatic atmosphere, to which he brought an intense brooding. Messiaen was also represented in a cool and controlled reading of O Sacrum Convivium! from 1937. Claiming Messiaen as an influence on Desenclos is something of a long-shot. The latter’s harmonic fuzziness might be traced these early works, but by 1963 Messiaen had moved on to universes un-glimpsed by the other. Duruflé is a more plausible model; he his Quatre Motets sur des Thèmes Grégoriens (1960), each sounded like polished, confident, if rather conservative, takes on well-known Latin sacred texts (“Ubi caritas”, “Tota pulchra es”, “Tu es Petrus”, “Tantum ergo”). Fauré, whose early work Cantique de Jean Racine (1965) received a brilliant, pellucid interpretation from the Singers, probably stole the show. Giving themselves over to the generous acoustic of the First Church in Cambridge, and singing in French rather than Latin, they produced their most passionate outpourings of the evening, making clear why one might have the urge to find “more like this.” Brian Schuth graduated from Harvard with a Philosophy degree, so in lieu of a normal career he has been a clarinetist, theater director and software engineer. He currently resides in Boston after spending the last 15 years in Eastport, Maine. The post Desenclos’s Considerable Conservative Beauties appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

La Scena Musicale

May 23

Review: Les Feluettes by Opéra de Montréal and Pacific Opera Victoria

Jean-Michel Richer (Comte Vallier de Tilly) et Etienne Dupuis (Simon Doucet)Photo, Yves Renaud Saturday night’s world premiere of Les Feluetteswas an accomplishment long in the making. A co-commission by Opéra de Montréal and Pacific Opera Victoria, the opera was conceived by Australian composer Kevin March, who saw the English movie adaptation, Lilies, over a decade ago. Set in a men’s prison in the 1950s and 1910s, the story is popular in Quebec through the play by Michel Marc Bouchard. Bishop Jean Bilodeau (tenor Gordon Gietz) visits the prison to hear the last confession of his boyhood friend Simon Doucet, played by baritone Gino Quilico. In a Man of La Mancha-style construction, the all-Canadian, all-male cast of inmates stage an opera-within-an-opera for the Bishop, who must reckon with his past. Deception, obsession, betrayal, and murder—Bouchard’s story has all of the trappings of a great opera. Old Simon forces Bilodeau to watch on as his younger self (tenor James McLennan) meddles in the burgeoning romantic relationship between young Simon (baritone Étienne Dupuis) and Vallier (tenor Jean-Michel Richer). The up-and-coming Dupuis commanded in his role, whether in the bruising fits of anger in his solos or the effusive dignity of his love duets with Richer. The acting between the two leading men was uncommonly believable for opera. For those worried, the love scene in the second act that warranted a disclaimer for nudity was practically chaste. Gordon Gietz (Monseigneur Jean Bilodeau) Photo, Yves Renaud Special mention to countertenor Daniel Cabena, who played an affable Mademoiselle Lydie-Anne de Rozier, Simon’s secondary love interest, as well as baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, Vallier’s mother the Comtesse Marie-Laure de Tilly, who stole every scene. March’s eclectic and cinematic score was as if, as my opera-going partner stated, Debussy and Britten met in Hollywood. This was March’s first time writing a full-length opera, and the score held together quite well, only getting better as the night progressed. Staging elements added to the realization except for the placement of the orchestra upstage behind bars. Conductor Timothy Vernon had no eye contact with the singers on stage, they were expected to watch him; he was filmed and projected on two monitors mounted above the audience on either side of the auditorium. Turning what is traditionally a two-way communication between conductor and performers into a one-way exercise in trust added unnecessary bumps in the production that may or may not be attributable to opening-night jitters. Fortunately, issues of balance and togetherness were mostly worked out by the second act. It may be daring to write a full-length new opera these days, but Les Feluettes hit on all of the right notes. Aside from its subject matter, which has taken a long time to hit the operatic main stage, the opera could have easily been part of the canon for the last 30 years. As CBC reported earlier this week, there was some pushback from several Opéra de Montréal subscribers over the homosexual content, but in the end it is truly their loss to miss this tasteful and stirring production. Jean-Michel Richer (Comte Vallier de Tilly) et Etienne Dupuis (Simon Doucet) Photo, Yves Renaud You still have time to see for yourself. Three presentations remain, May 24, 26 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Salle Wilfrid Pellieter, Place des Arts. The production will travel to Victoria, BC in April 2017. www.operademontreal.com, http://www.pov.bc.ca




La Scena Musicale

May 23

Cette semaine à Montréal (23 à 29 mai) / This Week in Montreal (May 23–29)

English Follows Etienne Dupuis (Simon Doucet) Photo: Yves Renaud Le War Requiem de Britten à la Maison Symphonique Kent Nagano et l’OSM, accompagnés du chœur de l’OSM, présentent le War Requiem de Benjamin Britten les 25 et 28 mai à 20h00 et le 29 mai à 14h30, à la Maison Symphonique. Parmi les solistes, on retrouve la soprano Catherine Naglestad, le ténor Ian Bostridge, et le baryton Russell Braun, qui remplace Thomas Hampson pour des raisons de santé. http://www.osm.ca/en/concert/war-requiem Concours Musical International de Montréal Le CMIM débutera cette semaine avec les quarts de finale du 23 au 25 mai, et les demi-finales les 27 et 28 mai, à la salle Bourgie. Ne manquez pas les classes de maîtres données par les juges Ida Kavafian et Pierre Amoyal le jeudi 26 mai à 14h30 et 19h30, à la Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur. https://concoursmontreal.ca/en Les Feluettes à l’opéra de Montréal Après le succès retentissant de sa première, l’opéra Les Feluettes de Kevin March continue cette semaine avec trois autres représentations, les 24, 26 et 28 mai à 19h30, salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. S’inspirant de la pièce à succès de Michel Marc Bouchard, Les Feluettes raconte la tragique histoire d’amour entre deux jeunes hommes, relatée 40 ans plus tard par un opéra-dans-un-opéra mis en scène dans une prison de Québec. Lisez notre critique ici. http://www.operademontreal.com/en/shows/les-feluettes-lilies *** War Requiem at the Maison Symphonique Kent Nagano and the OSM with the OSM chorus present Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem May 25 and 28 at 8:00 pm and 29 at 2:30 pm at Maison Symphonique. Soloists include soprano Catherine Naglestad, tenor Ian Bostridge, and baritone Russell Braun, who is replacing Thomas Hampson for health reasons.http://www.osm.ca/en/concert/war-requiem Concours Musical International de Montréal The CMIM kicks off this week with Quarter-final rounds May 23–25, and Semi-final rounds May 27 and 28 at Bourgie Hall. Catch masterclasses with judges Ida Kavafian and Pierre Amoyal on Thursday May 26 at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, respectively at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur.https://concoursmontreal.ca/en  OdM’s Les Feluettes After a resoundingly successful opening night, Kevin March’s Les Feluettes continues this week for three more presentations, May 24, 26, and 28 at 7:30 pm, salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Based on the successful play by Michel Marc Bouchard, Les Feluettes tells the tragic love story between two young men, as retold 40 years later in an opera-within-an-opera at an all-male Quebec prison.Read our review here. http://www.operademontreal.com/en/shows/les-feluettes-lilies

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

May 22

Not Medieval, Not Medical, But Heroic

Beowulf, a new 80-minute chamber opera by Hannah Lash (b.1981), played to a full house Friday evening in Boston Conservatory’s Zack Box Theater on the opening night of Guerilla Opera ’s final production of the season (continues this weekend including Sunday night, and next Friday and Saturday). The world premiere features music and English-language libretto by Hannah Lash, stage direction by Andrew Eggert, scenic design by Julia Noulin-Mérat, lighting design by Daniel Chapman, and costumes by Neil Fortin. Lash’s Beowulf is a military doctor, played with fantastic intensity and control by baritone Brian Church. He struggles to care for his mother (depicted in a heart-wrenching, intimate performance by soprano Aliana de la Guardia) while overcoming his own demons. In this weekend’s production, the audience was incorporated into the set, with two rows of seating on elevated platforms surrounding the action, reminiscent of the historic Ether Dome at Mass General. Lash, who teaches at Yale and has a composing doctorate from Harvard, explains her reimagining of the medieval epic: My opera … is not an adaptation or retelling of the original legend. I used the title and the name for the main character to evoke the archetype of a hero who struggles to overcome a monster. It is a story about a former army doctor who suffers from PTSD, experiencing a haunting flashback from his days in combat. Now as a civilian doctor, he cares for his aging mother. It is a story about love, loss, and the sometimes unbearable burden on those who take care of others. Tenor Brendan P. Buckley presented an effective antagonistic foil to the dreamlike doctor of Church: as a nurse affiliated with the mother’s nursing home, he dramatically contrasted in color, tone, and register with the other characters, becoming the motive force in the dramatic action. Clarinetist Amy Advocat (soprano and bass), saxophonist Phillip Stäudlin (alto and tenor), violinist Lilit Hartunian, and percussionist Mike Williams were sequestered behind a gray translucent curtain for the first half of the action, but took more participatory roles in the second half. Two musicians acted as stagehands, and Williams (Guerilla co-artistic director) dominated the sonic environment with virtuosic playing of vibraphone, cymbals, a full octave of crotales, and other assorted percussion. Indeed, the sound world of the opera is by turns densely packed, with layers of painfully resonant sustained harmonics from violin and vibraphone and hauntingly near-empty sections with long, lugubrious melodies (sometimes in layered keys) building on the main musical theme, “Rock-a-bye Baby,” and fragments thereof. There are no recitatives, and several elements of the scenario (the pain the mother character suffers) are illustrated more through biting perfect intervals in the reeds and heartbeat-like bass drum ostinati than in a character’s voice. With the placement of the audience, it was a voyeuristic experience. Like the best of Menotti and Britten’s vocal elegies and adagio arioso writing, Lash is able to slow melodies to the point that each phrase seems to tonicize its final note, providing at the same time momentary solace and a gently disturbing undercurrent of simmering unease due to the many tonalities at play in the rest of the ensemble. Video of music from Act II, highly expressive, is here ; tickets are available here ; and for those unable to attend or daunted by the claustrophobic setting that provides much of the opera’s visual tension, Guerilla Opera and Ball in Square Films will live-stream the 8pm performance on Saturday, May 28. The complete libretto is here . Repeats May 22, 27 and 28. A longtime advocate of new music, Prichard is a regular pre-opera speaker for the San Francisco Opera and Boston Baroque. She has taught courses on music and theater history at Northeastern University and UMass-Lowell. The post Not Medieval, Not Medical, But Heroic appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .



La Scena Musicale

May 20

Lebrecht Weekly - Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 2 and 8 (Onyx)

4/5 stars Unless you live in England – and, in most of the country, even if you do – you will have few opportunities to hear live performances of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the dominant national composer between Elgar and Britten. A passing violinist may offer The Lark Ascending and a string orchestra might play VW’s setting of the Tudor tune ‘Greensleeves’, but the meat of this great composer, his symphonic work, is seldom served and then only with apology. There has only ever been one live cycle of the symphonies – by the late Richard Hickox – and the recorded versions – Boult, Previn, Handley, Hickox, Slatkin, Paul Daniel – are not always distinguished by the best of British orchestral playing. So the heart soars – yes, lifts right out of its chamber and into summer skies – at the glorious first sound of two symphonies that herald a full new cycle from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Manze. The dawn-like opening of the 1914 London Symphony testifies that Liverpool is an orchestra playing at peak confidence and conviction, all sinews strained in the good cause. The symphony is no more a portrait of London than Haydn’s was, rather an evocation of a time and a place, in that order. Nor is it helpful to consider VW an English composer when his principal influences were Ravel, Sibelius and Renaissance polyphony. He was English by heritage, language and tradition, immersed in Anglican melody, but he was cosmopolitan to the core, atheist, egalitarian and profoundly humane. He was a composer touched by great ideas and the London Symphony was his first near-masterpiece. I have not enjoyed a performance as much as this since John Barbirolli’s, and the playing here is in every measure richer and more vivid than those post-War recordings, certainly the liveliest available. The eighth symphony, written towards the end of VW’s long life, is his shortest and, in some ways, most experimental, playing as it does with tuned gongs, tubular bells and other exotica. It’s sunny, melodic and intellectually undemanding, intended for enjoyment, going nowhere in particular. And it has got some of the best brass playing you will hear all year. —Norman Lebrecht Sign on to the blogfeed Visit the website Visit the Lebrecht Weekly

Royal Opera House

May 6

Opera Essentials: Mark Simpson's Pleasure

Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman The story begins… Young men flock to the gay nightclub Pleasure . They worship at the feet of drag queen Anna Fewmore. But some also seek solace from toilet attendant Val. She’s a shoulder to cry on, a confidante – and an enigma. When the beautiful, unpredictable Nathan comes looking for answers, Val’s mystery begins to unravel. A young man’s game Liverpudlian composer Mark Simpson shot to fame in 2006 at the age of 17, when he became the first person in the history of the awards to win both the BBC Young Musician of the Year (as a clarinettist) and the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year. In the last decade he has gone on to cement his position as one of Britain’s most exciting musical talents, as both a performer and composer. His creative relationship with poet Melanie Challenger , librettist for Pleasure, began in 2008 when he read her collection Galatea ; Simpson recalls how ‘up until this point I had never experienced the written word as viscerally as I had experienced musical sound’. He went on write A mirror-fragment… , inspired by Galatea, and in 2015 they collaborated on the oratorio The Immortal for the Manchester International Festival . Dionysius meets Divine David The inspiration for Pleasure came from a night out in Liverpool. Simpson recalls how ‘one evening, as I stood pouring my heart out to a toilet attendant in one of the clubs, I suddenly started to see the world around me with a new sense of objectivity… This was a world where you could escape your own reality. But at what point was the pursuit of pleasure an escape?’. He took this kernel of an idea to Challenger, who wove from it a libretto that takes real-world grittiness and blends it with super-heightened reality and themes from Greek mythology. She explains how ‘one of my chief influences were the Homeric Odes to Dionysius . But another was the dark and brilliant spit-and-sawdust humour of Mancunian drag queen Divine David .’ A house of cards The creative team for the premiere of Pleasure includes director Tim Albery and designer Leslie Travers , each highly-acclaimed for their work in opera internationally – Albery’s previous credits with The Royal Opera include Tannhäuser . Simpson recalls the experience of watching his first opera come to life in rehearsals : ‘I’ve never seen first-hand this level of detail going into the directing process. It’s taught me a lot about how to approach the inner world of the characters and how to reflect this in the music I write… On a daily basis, I am confronted with just how complex the staging of opera can be. If one thing gets out of sync, the delicate house of cards we are building collapses. It is a huge collaborative effort.’ Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Lesley Garrett as Val and Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Timothy Nelson as Nathan in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Timothy Nelson as Nathan and Nick Pritchard as Matthew in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Nick Pritchard as Matthew and Timothy Nelson as Nathan in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Lesley Garrett as Val in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Lesley Garrett as Val in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Lesley Garrett as Val and Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Steven Page as Anna Fewmore in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Nick Pritchard as Matthew and Lesley Garrett as Val in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman Nick Pritchard as Matthew and Timothy Nelson as Nathan in Pleasure © Opera North 2016. Photo by Robert Workman A genuine coup Pleasure is the third in a series of co-commissions between Aldeburgh Music , Opera North and The Royal Opera, begun in 2013 to commemorate the legacy of Benjamin Britten through chamber operas from a new generation of opera makers. Pleasure is a tight 75 minutes long, scored for just four singers and ten musicians – played by members of acclaimed contemporary ensemble Psappha , which gave the premiere of Simpson’s first piece when he was 14. The opera had its premiere at Howard Assembly Room in Leeds on 28 April, with Alfred Hickling writing for The Guardian ‘Simpson has pulled off a genuine coup’. Pleasure runs 12–14 May 2016. Tickets are still available through the Lyric Hammersmith . The production is a co-commission and co-production with Aldeburgh Music and Opera North, supported by a legacy from Ms D. Kurzman via Arts Council England.

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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