Monday, June 26, 2017
From the US tenor Brenden Gunnell: It was with shock and great sadness that we all learned of the sudden death of Sir Jeffrey Tate two days ago. I am very fortunate to count myself among the many musician’s and singer’s lives he touched, inspired and influenced, having debuted many of the important roles and repertoire of my career under his guiding baton. I first sang with Sir Jeffrey in 2012 in Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, with the Hamburger Symphoniker. This was a piece that was very near to both our hearts, and it was for both of us a debut. It remains one of the seminal and defining experiences of my professional career. After the final chord, there was a minute’s silence from an enthralled audience before the applause ruptured the hall. Sir Jeffrey simply leaned down to me and said “I think they’ve understood it”. I will cherish and carry that moment with me for the rest of my life. It was with bittersweet coincidence that Sir Jeffrey passed on from us on what would have been Sir Edward Elgar’s 160th birthday, and occurring for myself during a rehearsal here in Dortmund, of course, of Elgar’s Gerontius… Together with Maestro Granville Walker, Thorsten Mosgraber, Director of the Klangvokal Festival Dortmund, and representatives of the Dortmund Philharmonic, we thought it necessary and befitting Sir Jeffrey’s memory to dedicate our performance publicly, in grateful thanks for all the wonderful moments so many of us were fortunate enough to have shared with him. May he rest “..softly and gently, dearly ransom’d Soul.” Thank you, Sir Jeffrey.
"The London Symphony Orchestra teamed with techies from the University of Portsmouth and Vicon Motion Systems, who captured Rattle's movements while conducting, appropriately, Elgar's Enigma Variations. Digital artist Tobias Gremmler was then called in to convert the gestures into animated films."
Elgar and his peers: The Art of the Military Band, new from SOMM. Brass bands, both concert and military, are ideal for large-scale, open air ceremonies, where sound has to carry over a distance. These requirements affect instrumentation. Brass and military bands have huge followings, but listeners used to mainstream orchestral performance can acquire a taste for the genre, through transcriptions like those on this recording. Two transcriptions in this colletion, adapting Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance op 89, nos 2 and 5, illustrate the art of writing for military band as opposed to concert orchestra. Both are vigorous, perfectly enjoyable on their own terms. Also included are two chorales from J S Bach's St Matthew Passion, which Elgar transcribed for brass band. Inspired by hearing a Bavarian brass band playing hymns from a church tower, Elgar arranged two chorales for the Three Choirs festival in 1911. These were played at the top of Worcester Cathedral before the main performance. Novelties, but also educational. The more substantial With Proud Thanksgiving was commissioned by the League of Arts for National and Civic Ceremonies to dedicate the unveiling of the Cenotaph in London, on the anniversary of the Armistice, in the presence of King George V and numerous dignitaries, and the choir of Westminster Abbey. The Worcester Herald, ever loyal to Elgar, reported "It is hoped that on the unveiling every choir in London - both Church and secular - will, take part in the ceremony". Things didn't quite turn out that way. This new SOMM recording is a world premiere. Elgar's original was transcribed for military band by Frank Winterbottom, Professor of Instrumentation at the Royal School for Military Music, who had also made arrangements for Elgar's The Crown of India and Seviliana Elgar later made his own version of the hybrid for full orchestra and chorus, which was first heard in the Royal Albert Hall on 7th May, 1921. Thunderous drum rolls mark the introduction to With Proud Thanksgiving, "Solemn the drums thrill" runs the text, taken from Lawrence Binyon's For the Fallen, which Elgar had previously used as the third poem set in The Spirit of England. Thus the same dignified marching pace, as in a funeral procession, the long vocal,lines projected forcefully, "as the stars shall be bright when we are dust". In contrast, the Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode, So Many True Princesses Who Have Gone, to a poem by John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, marking the unveiling, in 1932, of the memorial sculpture to Queen Alexandra at Marlborough House, not indoors, but on the wall facing the street . "So many true princesses who have gone over the sea.......have given all things, and been ill repaid," Alexandra was an immigrant, a Danish princess with German origins. "Hatred has followed them and bitter days" Masefield continued : But Alexandra "won our hearts, and lives within them still". Masefield describes London as a "day-long multitude, the lighted dark, the night-long wheels, the glaring in the sky". Remarkably modern imagery, and a tenderness not often associated with State occasions. Elgar's setting is thus more private tribute than public piety. Though written for large choir and orchestra, it adapts well for smaller forces, as in this transcription by Tom Higgins for wind band, where the basic instrumental colours, such as reeds and flutes prevail in contrast to the brass. Elgar 's Severn Suite, op 87, (1930) was commissioned as a test piece for a brass band competition, the full score by Elgar himself. The version heard here is a transcription for military band by Henry Geehl, who lowered the key from C major to B flat, to suit the requirements of military, as opposed to brass band. Written in five movements played without a break, it's semi-symphonic and exits also in orchestral form. Elgar didn't write the titles describing Worcester landmarks, which were added on publication. This recording also includes works by Ralph Vaughan Williams: Sea Songs (1923) and Toccata Marziale (1924), the latter a very interesting band version of what might otherwise be a piece for organ, There's also a March for Band by Thomas Beecham, as composer, rather than conductor and Three Humoresques by B Walton O'Donnell , the Madras-born son of a military musician in the Indian Army. O'Donnell joined the army himself, and became a bandmaster before joining the BBC. Tom Higgins, who helped create the very successful SOMM recording of Elgar's The Fringes of the Fleet (more here) conducts the London Symphonic Concert Band, a new specialist ensemble, and the well-known Joyful Company of Singers.
At the Barbican, London, Andrew Davis conducted the BBCSO in Elgar Enigma Variations and Arthur Bliss The Beatitudes. A red letter day for British music fans, because Davis is a superb conductor of British repertoire. His insights into Bliss's Beatitudes was thus eagerly anticipated. If anyone can make a case for the piece, it is he. After an expansive performance of the Enigma Variations, I was expecting great things. The Beatitudes is an ambitious work, scored for large orchestra, soloists, choir and cathedral-scale organ, so an expansive approach would, in theory, breathe life into the piece. The background to the piece and its reception have been repeated so many times that you could fill an entire review regurgitating the details without having to mention too much about the music. In short, The Beatitudes was commissioned for the consecration of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962 and given top billing over and above Britten's War Requiem, the "other" commission. For reasons still unexplained, it was discreetly shunted aside. The premiere took place in a nearby theatre and was not well received. Whatever may have happened in Coventry in 1962, it isn't simply isn't true that The Beatitudes was forgotten. Shortly afterwards, it was performed in a proper Cathedral setting at Gloucester during the the Three Choirs Festival, which alone should have ensured its reputation. Paul Daniels conducted and the singing, being the Three Choirs Festival, must have been good. Bliss conducted it himself at the Proms in 1964, another ultra high profile event, with no expense spared. Bliss himself conducted the BBC SO, with the immortal Heather Harper, a host of choirs and of course the formidable Royal Albert Hall organ. This was commercially released five years ago. There have been other performances, including one at Coventry Cathedral a few years ago. The piece isn't a mystery waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately,British music is schismatic. Many still can't forgive Britten for being an outsider. All the more reasons then to engage with The Beatitudes on its own merits, rather than just blaming its lack of success on fashion and taste. Sixty years later, we should be mature enough to evaluate the piece on its own terms without pettiness and special pleading. Bliss is an important composer, who created masterpieces like Morning Heroes. Read more about that HERE when Andrew Davis conducted it with the BBCSO at the Barbican. Coventry Cathedral was bombed during the wear, so it's rebuilding was a symbolic act of hope. Memories of the war were still fresh, so Britten was taking risks by not condemning Germans. But perhaps people then knew about war first hand, they realized that working towards peace is a much greater challenge. The Beatitudes of Jesus, as recounted in the New Testament, address the basic concepts of Christianity. Tonight, the Pope reiterated these fundamentals at Fatima : "Mercy, not judgement". Fundamentalists who misconstrue "Blessed are the poor", maybe aren't Christian. Bliss's Beatitudes presentstexts arranged by Christopher Hassell interspersed with settings of seven poems, from the Prophet Isaiah to !7th century poets like George Herbert to Dylan Thomas. This allows him to expand the scope, making more of the idea of conflict implicit in the Ninth Beatitude, "Blessed are you when men shall revile you", which could be interpreted as relevant to the idea of war though it in fact refers to persecution of the apostles and those faithful to a radical new faith. Bliss connects the Sermon on the Mount to the Mount of Olives to Easter and to the Crucifixion. Bliss's Beatitudes are thus a mediation on struggle, illustrated by the strident, almost dissonant music in the Prelude and the Voices of the Mob. Contrasts are violently dramatic. Loud tutti climaxes but tiny figures (often strings or woodwind) flit past. The soloists (Emily Birsan and Ben Johnson) rise from the massed forces behind them. The ambience of a great epic saga, with a cast of thousands- what great film music this could have been ! Superb performances all round, good enough that it wasn't such a loss that the Barbican organ isn't as huge as, say, Coventry Cathedral, But in a way, I was glad that Davies focussed on the music itself, rather than going in for histrionic effects, He's conducted another Beatitudes - Elgar's The Apostles. That, too, was conceived on a grand scale with over a hundred chorister, many soloists and a big orchestra. But perhaps the key to The Apostles (and to The Kingdom) lies in its connection to The Dream of Gerontius.which follows one man's journey from physical life to the life everlasting. In The Apostles the followers of Jesus are about to go into the world, alone, spreading the new gospel in hostile situations. Hence the inherent contradiction between their mission, and overblown Edwardian public declarations of Christianity. Elgar is a master of large form, but his faith, in a loose, non-denominational sense, is fundamentally personal and humanistic. Not for nothing did he write te Enigma Variations, with its cryptic humour and deliberately non-dogmatic warmth of spirit. Please read what I wrote about Davis's Elgar Apostles with the BBC SO at the Barbican with Jacques Imbrailo in 2014. Part of the reason The Apostles and The Kingdom aren't programmed non-stop is because their charms lie not in bombast, but in humility. Elgar doesn't side with mobs, even when the mobs support the good guys. Bliss's competition wasn't Britten, but Elgar, and Elgar wind hands down. The Beatitudes have good moments but it's no masterpiece. Jesus's Beatitudes taught stress simplicity and the meekness which comes from genuine humility. The apostles got their reward in heaven, but earned it. No sense of entitlement, nor self pity, victimhood, or bitterness. Resentments are values of self, not selflessness. Tonight, the Pope who probably has more status than any of us, spoke of respect and compassion. Though surrounded by thousands, with a big organization behind him, he cut a frail, humble figure. Now there's a man who knows what The Beatitudes of Jesus mean.
At the start of my teaching career, way back in the 1970s, I had to drive through deep countryside to reach the school where I worked. One memory from that period recalls passing a farm where, every afternoon, strains of Elgar’s orchestral music wafted over fields of corn from the cowsheds. The farmer was convinced Read More ...
In a Telegraph article about the 2017 BBC Proms the concert series' director David Pickard raises hopes for an possible important change in direction. Discussing the move away from Proms themed to TV shows, Pickard observes that "what we need to be thinking of is nurturing a long-term audience for classical music". This statement may be blindingly obvious, but it is important for two reasons. First, it is a welcome sign that somebody at the BBC has finally realised what many of us have known for years, that dumbing down classical music does not build a long-term audience. The second reason why his observation is important is because it is a much-needed admission that quality and not quantity of audience is what matters. In the past the spin-masters at the BBC have been eager to point out the numbers of first-time concertgoers at the Proms. For instance the number of 33,000 first-time concertgoers was trumpeted for the 2014 Proms season; but drilling down below that headline figure painted a very different picture. From data in the public domain, we know that the Proms audience expressed as a percentage of venue capacity dropped from 93% in the 2013 season to 88% in 2014. This means that the total attendance fell by 17,000, despite 33,000 Proms neophytes swelling the numbers. So in 2014 the Proms gained 33,000 first time ticket purchasers, but lost 50,000 of its existing audience, resulting in a net loss of 17,000 concertgoers. What matters is the net change in audience size - newcomers less non-returners; because that determines the size of the long-term audience. The figures I have cited show that despite what superficially looks like an impressive number of first-time attendees wooed by events like TV-themed Proms, the total audience size declined. That decline was due to a mix of two factors: one was that many first-time concertgoers attracted by untypical concert fare did not return, the second was the vitally important but ignored point that the loyal core audience is also shrinking. David Pickard has at least realised that the new marginal audience is not coming back. But he and a lot of other people involved in concert planning also need to take on board that the core audience - which includes me - is becoming very reluctant to brave the contemporary concert ambiance; an ambiance that is being created largely by misguided efforts to attract the new marginal audience. In a 2015 piece titled 'What price classical music's new audience?' I reported here how for me a concert in France was marred by audience members eating a picnic, applauding during (not between) Mahler's settings of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and, of course, using their mobile phones. Elsewhere I lamented how a performance at the Fez Sufi Culture Festival was ruined by the continuous use of camera-phones, and this weekend my wife email from Toronto lamenting how an Indian music recital was marred by a concertgoer texting and checking emails and Facebook. The inflammatory subject of applause between movements makes an interesting case study. We are told that classical music must drop its silly conventions, and we are also told that silence between movements is one of those dispensable silly conventions. There is some historical justification for this argument, as going back many years it was, apparently, customary, for an audience to express its appreciation of particularly meritorious playing at the end of a movement. But in the age of the new marginal audience, applause between movements has in a remarkably short time become another silly convention. It is no longer an expression of praise for artistic excellence, because, dare I say it, many of those applauding between movements do not yet have the experience to recognise artistic excellence. Applause between movements is now something that the audience does, simply because the new silly convention says they should do it. Just one example was the apologetic dribbles of applause - is this where we should applaud? - between the movements of Tasmin Little's performance of Walton's Violin Concerto in Hull on BBC Radio 3 last week. (I emphasise that my criticism is of the applause habit and not Tasmin's artistic excellence!) The silly convention of dribbles of applause between movements started at the Proms but is now a global problem: we were subjected to it during a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in Rabat, Morocco recently. If David Pickard wants to know why a core audience member like me has only attended one Prom in recent years - Alwyn and RVW in 2014 - and will not be buying any tickets for the 2017 season, I suggest he listens to the archive recording seen in my header graphic, which is a transfer of BBC broadcasts of two concerts. (I will refrain from using the BBC Radio 3 presenter's ghastly terminology of 'live concerts' as I have never yet attended a concert where the musicians on the platform are dead). Brahms' Third Symphony was recorded at a Prom in 1977 and Elgar's First at a 1976 Prom. On the transfers the hall ambiance has been left between the movements. Not only are there no dribbles of inter-movement applause, there is also none of the tubercular between-movement coughing that punctuates today's performances despite greatly improved health standards. Moreover the music itself is heard in rapturous silence, again without the intrusive noises of today's audiences. And if anybody tries to dismiss the background silence in those two concerts as lucky flukes, I refer them to other BBC concert recordings from the past, all of which lack audience participation; for example another Elgar 1, this time Sir John Barbirolli's painfully slow valedictory 1970 performance in the unforgiving acoustic of St Nicholas' Chapel, King's Lynn, and Bruno Maderna's Mahler Nine recorded in the Festival Hall in 1971. It is quality and not size of audience that is important to nurturing a long-term audience for classical music. David Pickard's candid views suggest that there is some light at the end of the dumbed-down corridor. Let's hope that it is not a train full of audience-chasing BBC senior executives coming the other way. No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
Sir Edward William Elgar (2 June 1857 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially. In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition. After a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas. His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory. The first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901) is well-known in the UK and in the US. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of recordings of his works. The introduction of the microphone in 1925 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral.
Great composers of classical music