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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Cohen’

It was wonderful to be back at The Proms after two years, and by my seventh and final concert it felt like life was back to normal; all of my summer traditions – Shakespeare’s Globe, Open Air Theatre and The Proms – had returned.

It started (for me) with Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson, whose residency on the daily BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row rekindled my interest in the solo piano and ignited my interest in his artistry. His two beautifully played piano concertos – Bach & Mozart – were bookended by Prokofiev and Shostakovich symphonies from the Philharmonia Orchestra, but this didn’t stop him doing a few solo encores in the middle of the second half, during which you couldn’t hear a pin drop. A great programme and a great showcase for this young man whose international career is clearly taking off.

I’d never heard of South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, but I fancied a bit of fusion, this year promoted from late night proms to evening proms. He’s a real force of nature, the blending of classical music with African rhythms was a great success and the party atmosphere was infectious. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Clark Rundell were having a ball, moving from the baroque pieces of Rameau to orchestral arrangements of contemporary pieces based on African traditions. Selaocoe’s trio Chesaba provided the rhythmic foundation for most of them, Moroccan Londoners Gnawa and the Bantu singers adding colour. A punt that paid off.

The BBC singers concert was another experimental success. This time it was the Renaissance meets the present day with contemporary composers like Nico Muhly and Roderick Williams contributing a response to the older pieces by composers such as Hildegard von Bingen and Byrd. With no gaps between each piece it flowed beautifully under the direction of Sofi Jeannin, who has gone from strength to strength since becoming their chief conductor. One of the responses was ‘played’ on turntables and electronics from the centre of the prom area, which was rather surreal to watch as well as listen to.

The LSO and Simon Rattle are Stravinsky experts and it showed in a brilliant programme of three of his less well known ‘symphonies’. It was lovely to see the wind section shine in the Symphony of Wind Instruments, and you could hear each one clearly in this vast hall. I was more familiar with the Symphony in C, though I’ve never heard it sound this good. The Symphony in Three Movements showed the cinematic direction his work had taken on moving to the US and it proved fascinating.

Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde was this year’s contribution from Glyndebourne Opera. It was semi-staged, though I rather wish they hadn’t bothered as moving up, down and around a few steps doesn’t really add anything. A concert version would suffice. The London Philharmonic Orchestra under Robin Ticciati sounded wonderful and the soloists were fine indeed, though Simon O’Neill seemed to be struggling in Act II. We found out why just before Act III began when it was announced that Neal Cooper (hitherto Melot) would sing Tristan from the side while O’Neil acted the role. This added an extra layer of drama, with Cooper shining brightly (without score, though he had understudied and sung the role in Melbourne). All’s well, as they say.

This was followed a day later by a gorgeous choral programme by the Monteverdi Choir with the Baroque Soloists under John Elliott Gardiner. A Handel sandwich with Bach filling, the highlight was the joyful Dixit Dominus to end, with a couple of encores of the final movements. The vocal soloists all stepped out of the choir, such is the standard of this brilliant group. A treat.

My proms ended with Bach’s mighty St. Matthew Passion, given by Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo musicians and chorus with a superb set of six British soloists. I’d forgotten how demanding the part of the Evangelist is, and Stuart Jackson did a fine job. Iestyn Davies was particularly good and Roderick Williams’ contribution grew as the evening proceeded. I hadn’t heard the piece for some time, so it was good to be reminded of its quality with this fine reading by all.

Good to be back.

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Contemporary Music

There was a lot to love about Weimar Cabaret at Cadogan Hall.  The period and the place produced an extraordinarily eclectic collection of original music which gathered together has an eccentric, manic quality. The Australian Chamber Orchestra played brilliantly, in dark suits and trilbies, and Barry Humphries provided insightful and funny commentaries, and sang a song or two with cabaret star Meow Meow, who sang a lot on her own and with a lady violinist from the orchestra. I will never forget her Serenata Erotica! A unique evening.

John Wilson has a large, loyal and attentive following and last year’s brilliant Bernstein Prom propelled us to book for this year’s Gershwin Prom. I was expecting some, if not all of it, to be from Broadway, but it was all Hollywood, and a third of the songs were Ira Gershwin’s lyrics without the then late George Gershwin’s music. The first half disappointed; with little light and shade it was relentlessly showbiz and the sound mix wasn’t great, with strings buried beneath brass. It picked up significantly in the second half though, with better sound, some slower numbers and the ballet from An American in Paris as a closer. Overall, though, a bit too Friday Night is Music Night for me, and a rather expensive one too.

Opera

I’ve never seen anything in the Arcola‘s annual Grimeborn opera festival before but after their brilliant Tosca, very powerful at close quarters, I won’t make that mistake again. In fact, I’ve already booked for another two! The singing was superb and the whole score heroically played on one grand piano, and all for the price of a cinema ticket. Eat your heart out, ENO & RO.

My journey to and from the Arcola Theatre for my second Grimeborn production was more than twice as long as Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely staged 40-minute opera Mozart and Salieri. Composed eighty years before Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus on the same subject, also derived from Pushkin’s play. It was a bit slight for me, though it was well staged and performed. I’ve only seen a few of his fifteen operas and this was more of a collector’s item than anything else.

Grimeborn reached its pinnacle with Opera Alegria’s Mozart Double – an opera he wrote when he was twelve, Bastien & Bastienne (not his first!), which may or may not have been performed at the time, and one from his late career when he was thirty, a satire on opera itself The Impresario. You can hear clearly how he matured, though both operas are good. As they both have dialogue they are technically operettas or singspiel and the settings in this production are contemporary, the libretto updated. The performances were brilliant and it was the most fun I’ve had in 35 years of opera-going.

Cape Town Opera‘s Mandela Trilogy at the Royal Festival Hall was a hit-and-miss affair. It told Madeba’s story in three parts – youth to University, the politicised years centred in Sophiatown and his trial & imprisonment through to his freedom speech on release. I liked the prologue and Parts 1 & 3 by Peter Louis van Dijjk, but though I liked the idea of the Part 2 jazz musical by Mike Campbell, I wasn’t convinced by the contrast its inclusion created. It was semi-staged but from our top price front stalls seats we couldn’t see the singers, which rather marred the experience.

Classical Music

The off-site Prom at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was an absolute treat and a triumph. Eleven piece ensemble Arcangelo led by Jonathan Cohen played Shakespeare-inspired music from the late 17th century by candlelight with three brilliant soloists, Katherine Watson, Samuel Bowden & Callum Thorpe, who animated the arias by interacting and moving around the space. Wonderful.

A gorgeous lunchtime Prom at Cadogan Hall paired viol ensemble Fretwork with vocal ensemble Stile Antico for a programme of 17th century Shakespeare settings (plus a few others) with two brilliant contemporary ones by Huw Watkins and Nico Muhly. A real tonic.

The third Shakespeare themed Prom showcased music for stage and screen, with the first half music by Walton, Finzi, Sullivan and Joby Talbot written for screen and ballet versions of Richard III, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Tempest, As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale and the second half music for the stage – Bernstein’s West Side Story based on Romeo and Juliet, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate based on The Taming of the Shrew and The Boys from Syracuse, a version of The Comedy of Errors by Rogers, Hart and Abbott. I really liked it, more than the Gershwin Prom (with better sound), and conductor Keith Lockhart engaged with the audience unlike most conductors.

European cities usually have a cultural black hole in August, but I managed to find a performance of the rare Cherubini Requiem in C Minor at the Liege Opera House during a short overnight visit. Though I’d never heard it before, it seemed a bit lacklustre – WNO on an off night (we don’t know how lucky we are) – but it was good to hear it, and the theatre was lovely.

Film

Matt Damon didn’t have many lines to learn for Jason Bourne which was all action, exhaustingly so, with an extraordinary car chase at the end that I honestly don’t know how they pulled off. Great fun.

I eventually caught up with the female Ghostbusters remake, which was good fun and technically accomplished, though hardly ground-breaking.

Art

The Liverpool Biennial Festival of Contemporary Art was absolute shite. It was devoid of any beauty, lacking in ingenuity and it all seemed derivative and dated. Fortunately, Tate Liverpool had three good exhibitions – Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, Maria Lassnig & Ella Kruglyanskya, the latter two artists completely new to me. These, together with the permanent collections at Tate and the Walker and the Peter Blake designed Mersey Ferry, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, redeemed the weekend. I won’t get fooled again!

Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson‘s ‘exhibition’ at the Barbican was about as off-the-wall as it gets. The only live part was ten troubadours lounging, strumming and singing – for the whole 8 opening hours! There were records of previous projects, mostly on video, including a 9-screen installation recording a 1-hour concert where each player was in a different room of a house (including the bath!), brass players cruising whilst they played in Venice for six hours every day for six months, a crooner singing the same three words for 30 minutes, band The National singing their song A Lot of Sorrow continuously for six hours, 144 paintings of the same subject in the same place where they both spent six months and four 5-yearly videos of his mother spitting in his face. I rather liked it all!

I managed to catch the exhibition of Francis Townes‘ late 18th century watercolours of Italy on its last day at the British Museum. They were beautiful, though a touch faded and mostly behind glass. He was apparently never accepted by the art establishment, despite his undoubted talent.

The Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition has moved south-east and indoors to Greenwich University and, despite the journey, is better for it. It was the usual high standard but it made me feel less inadequate as, since last year, I’ve done a short photography course, had some coaching and went on some photographic safaris, so next year I think I might enter!

The Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern exceeded its expectations bigtime. A hugely comprehensive retrospective which also allowed you to learn about her life through photographs and room descriptions. I’ve always loved her work, now I’m virtually obsessed. I’ll be back!

The exhibition I went to the Photographers’ Gallery to see, as instructed by Time Out (!) – Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity – disappointed, but upstairs there were two floors of Terence Donovan’s wonderful, iconic, mostly black and white 60’s and 70’s photographs in Speed of Light. An unexpected treat.

Colour & Vision at the Natural History Museum sought to explain the evolution of vision in the animal world. It started well, with fascinating fossils in particular, but then threw in the kitchen sink and became overpowering and confusing. Shame.

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