7 Star Arts launches a new series of concerts in the iconic Jazz Room at the Bull’s Head
Iconoclassics features leading, critically-acclaimed classical musicians, more at home in the world’s great concert halls than in a jazz club, but all happy to break free from the conventional classical music scene. The small size of the Jazz Room creates a special connection between musicians and audience, and allows the musicians to present music in a more accessible and relaxed way.
In keeping with the main focus of The Jazz Room, programmes in the Iconoclassics series will explore links between classical music and jazz, and will include works by Ravel and Gershwin, two composers whose music crossed genres and pushed the boundaries of what we define as “classical music”.
Iconoclassics launches on 14 February 2018 with Classic Valentine – a special concert for Valentine’s Day featuring David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano). This will be followed on 11 March by a solo concert by internationally-acclaimed pianist Anthony Hewitt, who has been praised for his “fine, poetic and communicative musicianship” (BBC Music Magazine).
This promises to be a fascinating and absorbing new series in an intimate venue.
Purists may balk at hearing classical music in a venue normally reserved for jazz, but the small size of the jazz room lends itself to the right kind of concentrated listening and intimacy of expression
The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, a riverside pub in Barnes, SW London, more usually vibrates to the tunes, rhythms and vibe of the genre from which it takes its name, but last night the intimate space was filled with altogether different sounds in a concert given by two highly acclaimed classical musicians – David Le Page (violin) with Viv McLean (piano).
In addition to his solo, ensemble and orchestral work, David Le Page is also a composer of beautifully-crafted, imaginative and highly evocative music. His latest album ‘The Book of Ebenezer’ (release date TBC) is inspired by The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G B Edwards. Set in Guernsey through the late nineteenth century up to the 1960s, the novel takes the form of a fictional autobiography narrated by Ebenezer Le Page, a typical “Guern’ man, deeply engrossed in his life on the island. David Le Page also hails from Guernsey, no relation to Ebenezer Le Page, though as David said in his introduction to his music, the name Le Page is as common in Guernsey as Smith is elsewhere in the UK. David has taken moments in Ebenezer’s life as recounted in the book as the inspiration for an album of 10 exquisite miniatures for violin and piano.
In the slower, more reflective pieces, the music is redolent of the spare grace and meditative stillness of expression of Arvo Pärt, while the more lively pieces have folksy intonation and foot-tapping rhythms. Several of the pieces use Guern folksongs, and one is based on Sarnia Cherie, the national anthem of Guernsey. All the music is highly evocative, infused with a tender poignancy which speaks not only of the eponymous hero’s reminiscences and reflections but also of David’s connection to the island of his birth, its landscape and its weather. There are haunting bird calls, as if heard from afar, the gentle wash of the sea rippled by the wind, the glint of light in water – elements which give the music a filmic quality and serve as a narrative thread which runs throughout the suite of pieces.
Purists may balk at hearing classical music in a venue normally reserved for jazz, but the small size of the jazz room lends itself to the right kind of concentrated listening and intimacy of expression which this music demands and offers. And David Le Page and Viv McLean create a very special intimacy of their own – these musicians work together regularly and their empathy and mutual understanding is palpable in every note they play.
David Le Page and Viv McLean return to the Jazz Room at the Bull’s Head for a special concert for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday 14 February – details here
7 Star Arts promotes exciting and eclectic performances by a vibrant collective of musicians, actors, writers and artists, including acclaimed pianists Anthony Hewitt and Viv McLean, violinist David le Page, actress and writer Susan Porrett, jazz ensembles Partikel and the Liam Stevens Trio, and artist Klara Smith.
Performances often take place in smaller, more intimate venues and feature mixed-genre programmes combining music and words, and music, words and pictures to create unique and accessible concerts which offer unexpected insights into the music being performed.
I have been involved with 7 Star Arts for several years now on an ad hoc basis, as an occasional publicist and performer, but I recently took over managing the 7 Star Arts website and am now responsible for producing publicity material and promoting events via social media.
Christmas 2016 saw the launch 7 Star Arts has a residency at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head in SW-London with a sell-out performance of ‘Classic Gershwin’, a wonderful celebration of the life of George Gershwin in music and words. Known as the “suburban Ronnie Scott’s”, the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head is now an established part of the London jazz scene and host to many acclaimed jazz musicians and singers.
In addition, we are also hosting events at the hidden gem that is Dorich House, the splendid and wonderfully eclectic Art Deco former home of Russian artist Dora Gordine.
11th February 2017 – Classic Gershwin, St Michael’s Chiswick. Back by popular request, the hugely successful life of George Gershwin told in music and words, with pianist Viv McLean and actress Susan Porrett.
14th February 2017 – Valentine’s Extravaganza with Liam Stevens and Friends at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, Barnes. The Liam Stevens Trio is one of the most exciting young groups on the jazz scene today. Led by the dextrous piano playing of Liam, who displays a deep understanding and passion for music, winning increasing plaudits from audiences and respected musicians alike. This cutting-edge trio features Liam Stevens, keyboard, JJ Stillwell, bass and Joe Dessauer, drums, along with some very special guests for this one-off Valentine’s show.
3rd March 2017 – Chekhov’s Grand Piano. The premiere of a new multi-genre production celebrating the artistic life of the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov, with piano music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and le Page, performed by pianist Viv McLean and violinist David Le Page, with readings by Susan Porrett and Nesley Joy.
The great strength of this format is the subtle interweaving of words and music. Susan’s text brings to life the personalities of Chopin and Sand through letters between them and their friends, and contemporary accounts. The readings set the tone, and the music reflects it, each piece sensitively rendered by Viv with expression and commitment, from the tenderest, most intimate Nocturnes (Op 9, No. 2, Op post. In C sharp minor) to an intensely poignant Mazurka (Op 17 No 4). …..Viv’s understated, modest delivery always allows the music to speak for itself, while Susan’s words lend greater focus, encouraging us to listen to the music even more attentively.
“The combination of prose and music worked very well……a unique evening’s entertainment”
What does a family do to a talented child? What does the presence of a prodigy do to the family? And how on earth can she find the right teacher? The topics at the heart of Jessica Duchen’s acclaimed novel Alicia’s Gift hold a perennial fascination for countless music-lovers.
Its story follows the piano prodigy Alicia Bradley and her embattled parents from the revelation of her talent aged three through to her adulthood and her participation in the Leeds International Piano Competition. The process leaves none of them unchanged and ultimately forces Alicia to face harsh truths about herself, her guidance and her gift.
Conceived by Jessica Duchen, and performed by Jessica and pianist Viv McLean the Alicia’s Gift concert explores its heroine’s story with the help of some of the music in her life, alternating extracts from the book with a variety of engaging illustrative piano works. The extracts from the book, read by Jessica, chart a story that is by no means unique, but is told with a sensitivity to the subject matter and an inside knowledge (Jessica Duchen is an acclaimed classical music journalist and blogger) which make Alicia’s musical and personal journey all the more riveting and poignant. The prose extracts are short, offering the listener just enough to keep the story alive throughout the performance and engage the listener’s attention: there is humour and tears, tantrums and triumphs (and not just Alicia’s), and the book closes with an important message for all musicians, or indeed anyone who pursues something with an all-consuming passion: be true to yourself.
Descriptions of the music Alicia plays and loves are founded on Jessica Duchen’s wide knowledge, yet they are not dry programme notes nor couched in the language of the musicologist: Chopin’s Third Ballade becomes a rollicking, romantic tale of people riding across the moors, the music of Debussy suggests nature in all its vibrancy, and Messiaen’s piano works are rich with vivid colours (Alicia, like Messiaen, has synaesthesia).
Interspersed with the readings are performances of some of the music mentioned in the book: sparkling and passionate Chopin, earthy de Falla, atmospheric Debussy, spiritual Messiaen and the frenetic Jazz-age New York cityscape of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, given a bravura reading by Viv McLean. The musical interludes throw light on the narrative, amplifying the emotional content. The concert ends with a tender duet by Jessica and Viv of Le jardin féerique (The Fairy Garden) from Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.
This is not the first words and music event Jessica Duchen has created (her Hungarian Dances, with Viv McLean and violinist David le Page, has been performed in London and beyond this year), and I have also heard Viv in Divine Fire, the story of Chopin and Sand, written and read by actress Susan Porrett. The format is highly engaging, and offers an alternative to the traditional concert presentation that will appeal to music and book lovers alike.
The premiere of Alicia’s Gift took place at the Musical Museum in Kew, west London, home to a quirky collection of self-playing instruments and the world’s largest collection of piano rolls, not to mention the Mighty Wurlitzer, which joined the performers on the stage. With a small audience of mostly invited friends and guests, the event turned into a delightfully social and friendly occasion, with a chance to meet and talk to the performers after the concert.
The next performance of Alicia’s Gift is on Wednesday 13th November at Leighton House Museum, Kensington.Further details and tickets here
For a taster of Viv McLean in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and details of upcoming performances of Alici’s Gift click here
‘Divine Fire’, created by actress Susan Porrett, with music performed by pianist Viv McLean, is a biographical journey in words and music through the lives of Fryderyk Chopin and authoress George Sand, focusing on the period of their first encounter in Paris up to Chopin’s final days. Theirs was a tumultuous love story, stormy and passionate, which continues to fascinate and enthrall today. The story-telling and readings are interspersed with performances of some of Chopin’s best-loved works for piano, including Nocturnes, Ballades, Polonaises, and the iconic Fantasie-Impromptu Op 66.
I asked Susan Porrett to explain what makes the story of Chopin and Sand so compelling for her, and how ‘Divine Fire’ came to be created:
What interests and excites you about the story of Chopin and Sand?
The lives of the two lovers were so full and rich in incident – my challenge was to distil the essence of their complex relationship into ‘Divine Fire’.
I found the writing of it very absorbing, and most of all I enjoyed reading George Sand’s lively and interesting letters to a variety of friends and selecting passages from her beautiful descriptions of Majorca.
What makes the relationship and correspondence between Chopin and George Sandso fascinating?
From its tender and romantic beginning to its unhappy ending, their nine-year relationship grips the imagination. Sadly, for Chopin, the nature of George Sand’s love for him gradually changed whilst his did not; they grew apart and their affair ended in bitterness and recrimination. After Chopin’s death, almost all of George’s letters to him were given back to her and she destroyed them; one or two of his to her survived – the last one he wrote to her is included in ‘Divine Fire’.
What is it like working with Viv McLean?
Working with Viv McLean is a joy and a privilege. The first concert we did together was ‘Touches of Sweet Harmony’ – a tribute to Shakespeare in words and music. Apart from his great talent, he is so modest and sympathetic. It was, in fact, the wonderful feeling that Viv brings to his playing of Chopin that inspired me to devise ‘Divine Fire’.
‘Divine Fire’ will be performed at St Mary’s Perivale on Sunday 13th October before touring the north of England. Full details here
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