Guest review by Jennifer Mckerras 

One of the great joys of lunchtime recitals is having the opportunity to see young performers at the beginning of their professional careers. And two such were given a prime performance opportunity at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 24 October. Chanae Curtis (soprano) and Ella O’Neill (piano) garnered a large and appreciative audience for their recital, including a half-term crowd of families with children of all ages.

Curtis and O’Neill began their programme with Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, Op.65. They continued with Three Poems of Fiona MacLeod by C.T. Griffes, and concluded with a selection of lieder by Strauss.

Chanae Curtis has a truly superb voice: velvety caramel in tone. She also has a tremendous range of colour and force, which this programme fully exploited. The very first item (Beethoven) is a long and complicated piece for both singer and accompanist, and requires several mood changes. Curtis and O’Neill guided the audience through all the twists and turns of the aria, and received justifiably rapturous applause at its end.

It was, however, in the American repertoire that Curtis really shone. She seemed to relax and connect with the audience in a way that had not been as present in the Beethoven. The Griffes songs are perhaps a little less well known by British audiences, and really deserve to be known better. Curtis’ handling of the texts was deft and well-nuanced, though sometimes the very full acoustic of the church building caused the text to be lost.

Ella O’Neill is currently undertaking postgraduate studies at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with Simon Lepper. In this recital she was a masterful accompanist, and I think has a tremendous future. She navigated the twists and turns of mood in the Beethoven with aplomb, and her handling of the Griffes and the Strauss lieder was delicate and assured. O’Neill has a great stage presence: calm and unfussed, she has developed the gift of allowing the music to speak for itself. This is a tremendous ability in a player at the beginning of her professional career! She is also adept in giving both soloist and audience total confidence in her playing; one feels that very little could shake her.

The Strauss lieder were delivered with great assurance from both performers, and were hugely enjoyed by the audience. The encore was a spiritual, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, in an arrangement by Margaret Bonds. Again, Curtis found a new level of connection with the audience and the text – she positively glowed as she sang. It is a pleasure to see a performer wholeheartedly inhabit the music in this way.

The reception for Curtis and O’Neill was overwhelmingly positive; even the half-term passers-by stayed captivated until the end. These performers are certainly a pair to watch for the future.

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Tuesday 27th June 2017

Scarlatti – Sonata in E
Scarlatti – Sonata in B minor
John Ireland – London Pieces
Schumann – Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op 82

Phillip Leslie, piano

St Martin-in-the-Fields has been welcoming talented musicians for 67 years and its lunchtime concerts series provides a platform for young musicians who are embarking their professional careers. This concert showcased pianist Phillip Leslie, a student at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance who studies with acclaimed teacher and pianist Philip Fowke.

The concert opened with Scarlatti’s regal sonata in E major K380, one of Scarlatti’s most popular keyboard works, to which Phillip brought a vibrant sound and sprightly articulation to reflect the festive dance inherent in this music. This was followed by the Sonata in B minor K27, altogether more melancholy in mood, with richer textures, greater lyricism and a rising sense of tension in the middle section. In both sonatas, Phillip displayed sensitivity in his choice of dynamics and tempo, with tasteful use of rubato to highlight details in the music.

John Ireland’s ‘London Pieces’, composed 1917-20, are musical evocations of London. Chelsea Reach is an impression of the river as it sweeps along Chelsea Embankment with “flickering gas-lamps reflected in the dark waters of the Thames,”.  Ragamuffin evokes the a small, carefree boy whistling along a Chelsea street, while the third piece, Soho Forenoons suggests a scene of good-natured street activity and bustle with a hint of barrel organ. I felt Phillip really caught the individual characters of these pieces while also responding to the virtuosic nature of this music with a full-bodied sound, transparent passagework and clarity of expression.

More evocations followed, this time of nature in Schumann’s Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), a suite of nine miniatures composed in 1848 and early 1849. The rather breezy title belies the true nature of these short pieces: there are “Einsame Blumen” (Lonely Flowers) and “Verrufene Stelle” (Haunted Places) in this particular forest, and the strange and ephemeral”Vogel als Prophet” (Bird as Prophet) is heard calling through the trees. This suite was beautifully presented by Phillip whose alertness to the contrasting moods and characters of each movement brought the music to life with great colour and rich expression. Tasteful pedalling and clear articulation combined with an acute sense of pacing to create a most enjoyable and engaging performance.

 

 

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Reger – Serenade for Flute, Violin & Viola, Op. 141a in G

Haydn – Symphony No. 101 in D, “The Clock”, arr. J P Salomon

Ensemble Nova Luce, Monday 21 November 2016

I escaped grey skies and pouring rain on Monday to slip into St Martin-in-the-Fields for a delightful lunchtime concert given by Ensemble Nova Luce.

A chamber ensemble formed in 2015 by postgraduate students and fellows of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Ensemble Nova Luce performs unusual repertoire and chamber arrangements of well-loved orchestral works which offer a fresh take on the music while also harking back to the historical convention of music being performed at home as a form of recreation. Such arrangements made large-scale suitable for small-scale and intimate gatherings of friends, to be played in the comfort of one’s living room.

Another of Ensemble Nova Luce’s projects is exploring the lost art of classical improvisation, something which during the time of Haydn and Mozart, and indeed into the 19th century with musicians such as Liszt, was an everyday part of the performers’ skill set. The practice of improvisation gives performers the freedom to diverge from the score and the idea that there is one version of the music, a concept which has gained increasing currency with the wide availability of high-quality of recordings.

The recital opened with Max Reger’s Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op 141a. The distinctive instrumentation, which omits the lower registers, major key and witty musical figures combine to create a bright, joyful mood. The work was engagingly performed by Rosie Bowker (flute), Marie Schreer (violin) and Henrietta Hill (viola)._

The second work in the programme was Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 in D Major, “The Clock”, arranged for a chamber ensemble of flute, two violins, viola, cello (bass) and piano by J P Salomon who was a founding member of London’s Philharmonic Society at the same time as Haydn visited London. The ensemble of seven musicians created a full, textural sound, underpinned by the double bass part which lent a richness to the music. Meanwhile, the small scale arrangement reminded us that it is possible to enjoy this music in a more intimate setting. There was wit and humour aplenty, in particular in the second movement (from where the symphony gets its nickname) and a keen sense of the musicians thoroughly enjoying this music. A most enjoyable and vibrant concert and an excellent start to the week. I recommend seeking out Ensemble Nova Luce.

After the concert, I met up with the bass player, Gwen Reed, a postgraduate student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, following studies at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. In addition to her work with Ensemble Nova Luce, Gwen performs with several other ensembles in London, including the Silk Street Sinfonia and Ensemble X.Y., and she has performed in London’s Barbican Hall, LSO St. Luke’s, and Cadogan Hall, as well as at venues in Europe. In common with her colleagues in Ensemble Nova Luce, Gwen is clearly a very active, engaged young musician who is keen to create performance opportunities and to collaborate with a wide variety of musicians and composers.

(Look out for a Meet the Artist interview with Gwen Reed, coming soon to http://www.meettheartist.site)

 

www.ensemblenovaluce.com

(photo credit: Skins Elliott Photography)

 

 

fda20c_c850cb4dd0214ff688db33d783c0140fMusic-in-Motion is a revolution in classical music performance, conceived and developed by conductor John Landor. The musicians perform without music stands or chairs, using movements and gestures designed to clarify the structure, drama and emotional impact of the music.

I met with John Landor to talk about early musical influences, significant teachers, the impetus for creating Music-in-Motion, and more…..

 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Although none of my family were professional musicians, my father was a keen jazz trumpeter in his youth, and my mother loved the arts and played piano. We had a rather large family of six children and we did a lot of singing as a family. I was born in the Midwest USA and I remember vividly evenings “on the porch” singing all the old American favourites like ‘She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain’, all that homespun stuff.

All my siblings learnt musical instruments, so I just assumed it was something everyone did. I remember proudly carrying home my first violin, the sense of ownership of something special. But almost as soon as I started lessons the family moved around a lot, which meant that it was difficult to get any regular teaching. At age ten I ended up as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral Choir School. There was no violin teacher, so I spent every morning break teaching myself, and also started to compose little pieces.

At WCCS I absorbed the whole Italian Catholic choral tradition. With 10 services to sing each week we all essentially became professional musicians at an early age. Although I hated being away from home (we were all boarders) the music was my great solace.

Was violin your first study instrument at Royal Academy of Music?

No, I decided there wasn’t much point in pursuing it as I was never going to play at the level I wanted to. My first experience of conducting around age 15 (one of my own compositions at school) was an epiphany. I walked around for days in a state of bliss and knew from that moment that this was what I wanted to do. I went to Oxford University to get a music degree and spent all my time forming orchestras and conducting concerts and went on to the Academy for conducting and composition.

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Significant influences or teachers?

My huge inspiration was Ilya Musin. At 34, I took some time for an artistic ‘re-fresh’ and went to study for a few months with him at the St Petersburg Conservatory. It was a revelation. Musin didn’t speak English but he spoke what I felt was my musical language, far more than anything I had encountered in all my years of study. I really felt I had ‘come home’, and fell in love with Russia in the process – such a fascinating country and people, complex, difficult, but so beguiling. He was the first teacher who talked about ‘character’ in music and that was a light-bulb moment. In my classes at RAM everyone talked about the nuts and bolts of conducting, but no one said anything about character. If the character of the music is absorbed, everything else starts to happen on its own. It was a total Eureka moment. I spent three months in classes with astonishment, amazement and relief, and it had a deep impact on my conducting.

This experience helped in the creation of Music-in-Motion?

Yes, although not directly. My finding the concept of Music in Motion was a slow evolution. It all started with the Mini Maestro family concerts I gave at St Martin-in-the-Fields around 2000 with LMA Orchestra. Because the sightlines there are not ideal for small children I started to send the orchestra out into the audience to play, with the kids holding their music. It gave them a chance to hear and see professional musicians close-up. But an important by-product was that it showed me that musicians can play perfectly well together even if spread out over a relatively large area.

I also realized that audiences just love being close to, or even in the middle of, the musical action – they’d say “wow! An oboist is playing in my face while I’m holding the music!”. And that face-to-face interaction with their audience gave the musicians a real buzz too – they felt more that they were artists in their own right communicating as individuals as well as a collective.

Then it occurred to me that if the musicians were able to move around while playing, they could perform more like actors on a stage and I could ‘choreograph’ the movements to show the interactions in the music. We started doing demonstrations of this in my Meet-the-Music discovery sessions in the interval of some of our evening concerts. The audience reaction was so extraordinary, it was clear that we had found something that was unusually powerful and inspiring. Instead of a static group of musicians seated in front of music stands, here was a living, moving, breathing musical organism.

Since then I have realized that this way of playing has almost limitless uses. For a start it’s ‘educational’ almost by default as it makes clear visually what is happening in the music without need for verbal explanation. All those people who like (or want to like) classical music but are put off by traditional concerts might find this a great way in. And for any musician it’s a great training for general expressivity as it challenges them to think more about how they communicate.

What influences would you say led you to the idea of Music-in-Motion?

First, Lindsay Kemp’s work, which made me understand how important context is to a performance. Secondly, a performance by the Mark Morris Dance Company where I ‘saw’ as well as heard a fugue being performed – a musical ‘line’ of dancers animated each voice of the fugue in a way that was incredibly clear and expressive. And finally, and most directly, Jonathan Miller’s production of the St Matthew Passion. In the arias with obbligato instruments, both singer and instrumentalist stood face to face, and I found it so direct, human and intimate compared to how it is normally done – just amazing. That deeply impressed me.

Is there a historical precedent for this?

Not that I can find or think of! For an idea that seems so obvious to me now, I find it almost unbelievable that there seems to be no historical precedent. Of course there has been quite a lot of work in the past few decades where musicians move on stage with dancers or act while playing. But these I find essentially use music to enhance a theatrical experience – whereas I am using theatre to enhance a musical experience.

I want to emphasise that Music-in-Motion is about revealing and highlighting the choreography, drama and acting that is intrinsic to the physical act of playing music already – not adding show or gimmicks! I am acutely aware that the moment you add a dancer, actor, video projections or have artists painting during a musical performance, the music itself becomes background. It’s incredibly vulnerable to that. So, while I whole-heartedly endorse the concept of musical performance in these kind of theatrical or dramatic contexts, that is the complete opposite of what I am trying to achieve. In a nutshell: a theatre of music, not music of theatre!

Do you feel any music could undergo the Music-in-Motion treatment?

Undergo? I think ‘thrive with’ is more the phrase I would use!

I’ve been purposefully focusing on core repertoire that isn’t overtly ballet or dance-inspired. In the Bach double violin concerto where the ripieno music interjects we had the players stepping out and back like a backing group to the soloists. It made the structure of the music so crystal clear to the audience.

In Mozart’s Jupiter, there’s this little Alberti figure in the second violins accompanying the tune. Normally it barely features in the aural landscape, it simply fills in the harmony. But then we musicians know it is in fact a completely wonderful, busy little conspiratorial moment in its own right. So we got all the second violins to play it in a huddle. All the sudden it became a vital part of the performance, not just an accompanying figure.

I want every and any audience to be fascinated by the riches contained in every single bar of a Brahms Symphony or a late Beethoven quartet – and not needing to be a connoisseur to appreciate it to the fullest extent possible, even on a first hearing.

How do you find musicians respond to Music-in-Motion?

Funnily enough the only run-ins I’ve had were with double basses! They felt it was a gimmick. Mostly, musicians start out pleasantly bemused, but once they get a taste of the sense of liberation from the normal hierarchies of traditional performance they love it! It makes each member of the ensemble feel they really count as individuals. Of course a certain level of stagecraft needs to be learned if it is not all to look a mess and distract from the music.

Does it affect the sound?

Yes it does, in several ways. The sound is much better. Music stands block sound, so when they are all removed there is better overall projection of the music. Even when a player turns while playing, the acoustic changes, so there’s yet another aspect of Music-in-Motion that can be used to enhance the experience of listening. Though it must only be used to clarify the music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas or concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be yourself and know what you are communicating.

Because the space we need to play our instruments is relatively small and, after all, most instruments are attached to our bodies in some way, many musicians naturally tend to focus inwards. The next point of focus is “am I playing well?”, then “what would my teacher think?”, then “I hope I am living up to the composer’s expectation” then “will I get a good review?’ – and only then the ‘end-user’, the audience, is considered! Music-in-Motion starts with the audience. How can we inspire, delight and fascinate them with what we do? If we can do this, I have no fears about the future of classical music.

Music-in-Motion – Shostakovich String Quartet No.8 performed by the Konvalia Quartet

 

John Landor is Music Director of London Musical Arts Orchestra, based at St Martin-in-the-Fields. He has been developing a new concept in orchestral and ensemble performance called Music-in-Motion since 2013.

Musicians and ensembles interested in exploring the concept are warmly invited to apply for one of his Music-in-Motion Workshops held regularly in London. Further information here

All 32 Piano Sonatas in a day? Read on……

Celebrated pianist Julian Jacobson, acclaimed for the vitality, colour and insight he brings to his performances, celebrates the 10th anniversary of his first all-Beethoven charity piano marathon by staging this amazing event once more. The event will run from 9.15am-10pm on 15th October 2013 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, with the aim of raising money for WaterAid and St Martin-in-the-Fields’ The Connection at St Martin’s which gives crisis grants to people in need across the UK.  Donate here.

Julian Jacobson (photo credit: Roger Harris)

Julian will perform all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas from memory in chronological order with the exception of Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’, prefaced by the Sonata in E minor, Op 90, which together will form a special lunchtime concert from 1-2pm within the marathon event itself. Likewise there will be a special ‘Total Beethoven’ concert at 7pm that evening which will conclude the day’s marathon. During this outstanding feat of endurance – undertaken by only two other pianists – he plans to take just 2 longer breaks of 30 minutes each on the day and a few shorter breaks of just 5 minutes each. The event will be live-streamed with a button for people to donate during the webcast.

This will be a very special event indeed. Aside from the sheer Herculean task of learning, absorbing and reproducing all those notes, and sustaining a performance for over twelve hours, to hear Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas in (almost) chronological order offers a far-reaching overview of Beethoven’s musical style, the development of the piano sonata as a genre in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, and a glimpse into the inner workings of Beethoven’s compositional life and personality.

I asked Julian about the special challenges of preparing for such a musical marathon

CEP: How do you prepare, mentally and physically, for such a performance? What are the particular challenges of presenting all 32 Sonatas in one day?

JJ: Just attempt not to drown. An insane project. Go through all the sonatas in decreasing circles (revision over two months, then again over one month, two weeks, one week, three days…..). Try and keep fit, or get a bit fitter.

Admission to the event during the day is free, with a donation. Book tickets for the evening concert ‘Total Beethoven’ (7pm) via the Box Office: 020 7766 1100 or online from the St Martin-in-the-Fields website.

Read Julian Jacobson’s blog about the project

www.julianjacobson.com