Catching up

It’s been a busy few weeks, and I’ve neglected to post my last few reviews and features.

For Sinfini, I delved into the woodwind repertoire to write top 10 works guides for flute and recorder. I also compiled a list of the 10 greatest flautists – see who made my cut here.

I reviewed the first concert in the New York Philharmonic’s Barbican residency for Bachtrack, and also indulged my wanderlust in writing a feature on the BRQ Vantaa festival.

More links and news to come soon!


Sibelius’ Silence?

On 26th December, 1926, Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphonic Society gave the première of Tapiola, a tone poem depicting the forest spirit of the Kalevala. No-one knew that Tapiola would turn out to be the composer’s last major work; although small-scale compositions and revisions intermittently appeared, Sibelius’ oeuvre ends with an ellipsis rather than a triumphant conclusion.

Read the rest of the feature here.

Valletta International Baroque Festival releases 2016 programme

Open your diaries – the Valletta International Baroque Festival has announced the line-up for its fourth season. Taking place from 16th-30th January 2016 with events taking place around the Maltese capital, the concerts look just as enticing as ever. Highlights include the opening concert, with Jordi Savall directing Le Concert des Nations; a feast of Vivaldi over the second weekend (with no less than three consecutive concerts performed by La Serenissima); Mahan Esfahani (both in recital and as soloist with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra); the Collegium Vocale Gent (conducted by Philippe Herreweghe); La Compagnia del Madrigale; Andreas Martin… Although the concert programmes themselves have not yet been released, the stellar line-up promises great things.

Valletta International Baroque Festival 2016 programme

Exploring French women composers

Try to reel off the members of Les Six, and you might struggle to complete the set. The names of Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Auric and Durey were frequently heard alongside that of another composer. The music of Germaine Tailleferre – the only female member of the group – may be neglected today, but she was highly regarded during her lifetime, earning the praise of such luminaries as Erik Satie.

Tailleferre is by no means the only female musician who has been overshadowed by her contemporaries. Nadia Boulanger is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century Paris, but the early part of her career was eclipsed by the star of her younger sister, Lili. A prodigious talent, Lili Boulanger would be the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome. Her career was to be meteoric, but short-lived: she died at the tender age of 24, struck down by Crohn’s disease.

The lives of the women are fascinating, and their music no less so. Both were distinctive and characterful voices, deserving of the esteem in which they were held during their lifetimes.

Find out more by reading my profiles of Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger at Sinfini Music.

Beyond the bird: Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1

With 2014 the centenary year of World War I, all things 1914 are being reconsidered, not least musical contributions from those involved. Vaughan Williams’s ‘pastoral romance’ The Lark Ascending is arguably the best-known product of the conflict; composed on the brink of the war, its nostalgic aura lends it a particular poignancy, with the bird’s dying call seemingly portentous of the horror to come. However, the popularity of this piece comes at a price, meaning that some of the composer’s other works from this time have been overlooked.

Take, for example, Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1. Written in 1906, the composer revised it in 1914. Based on folk songs collected in the county, the Rhapsody begins with a slow introduction before moving into a buoyant Allegro. However, it is underpinned by a sense of wistful nostalgia: opening with bird-like oboe calls and clarinet flourishes over a carpet of shimmering strings, Vaughan Williams then introduces a viola idea (dominated by yearning appoggiaturas) which can only be described as elegiac. Expanded in full orchestra, it is accompanied by nostalgic modally-inflected harmonies and sinking chromatic lines. Even the apparently sunny nature of the next episode, a lilting cor anglais melody, disintegrates into a restless, searching passage: any pastoral idyll is eventually undermined. After all, the composer’s folk song project was an attempt to grab onto a disappearing past, an idea which gained additional poignancy as the country teetered on the edge of disaster.

Even the infectious bassoon and cello melody gains a particular significance: perhaps this buoyant march conveys the sense of optimism at the start of the war. Once again, though, this is only temporary: the cor anglais melody returns, this time imbued with a greater sense of longing. The positive façade is shattered, revealing an underlying sense of crisis.

The peaceful opening material is reprised at the Rhapsody’s end, this time tainted by the dark clouds from earlier on. With disaster fast approaching, it seems little wonder that Vaughan Williams would return to this particular work in 1914: it encapsulated the sense of anxiety and loss which would characterise the years to come.

Arts and culture in Istanbul

Last week I headed to Istanbul to find out more about the city’s arts and culture scene. While over there, I reviewed the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra’s 15th anniversary gala with Roberto Alagna and looked around Borusan Contemporary. I also met the BIPO’s Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Sascha Goetzel along with Ahmet Erenli and Zeynep Hamedi (General Manager and Chairperson respectively at Borusan Culture and Arts). Funded by Borusan Holding (an industrial conglomerate), BCA is coordinating a number of projects to affirm Turkey’s cultural heritage on an international level and at home.

Take a look at my review and article to find out more.