Saturday 31 December 2011

The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum

On Friday 30th December 2011 I made the traditional Christmas journey to London to attend a performance of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. My festive destination was the London Coliseum for the English National Ballet's production of this timeless classic. This production was premiered last year, the creation of which was captured on the BBC documentary Agony and Ecstasy: a year at English National Ballet.

A combination of Wayne Eagling's choreography and Peter Farmer's designs brought us the magic of Christmas while showing a darker version with the threatening presence of the Mouse King being felt throughout the ballet until finally good triumphs over evil. The Orchestra of English National Ballet played beautifully at this historic London Theatre while Anais Chalendard was outstanding in the role of Clara.

The audience at the London Coliseum were taken on a journey back in time with the English National Ballet to a frost-covered, gas lit world with Clara, her Nutcracker doll and the mysterious Drosselmeyer in this traditional, festive tale full of Edwardian elegance. On Christmas Eve under the candlelit tree Clara battles with the Mouse King and falls in love with a handsome Prince. As the snowflakes begin to fall Clara and her Nutcracker take a balloon ride across the frosty skyline to the Land of Snow where her adventure really begins.

This was a magical and memorable treat not to be missed and showed us all the magic of Christmas combined with wonderful ballet and music. The setting was perfect as we were all enchanted by this perfect festive story. Christmas is not complete without The Nutcracker. 

Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas celebrated at St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich

On Tuesday 20th December 2011 I attended the Norwich Philharmonic Family Christmas Concert at St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich featuring the Norwich Philharmonic Chorus, Norfolk Brass and Norwich Lower School Chamber Choir. This concert which was fundraising in support of Help for Heroes also featured conductor David Dunnett and organist Timothy Patient.

St. Andrew's Hall was filled with Christmas spirit as the choir and audience sang a number of Christmas carols. The sound of O Come All Ye Faithful, Good King Wenceslas, While Shepherds Watched and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing echoed around the venue as we all got into a festive mood.

Norfolk Brass gave a wonderful performance which included White Christmas while the Norwich Lower School Chamber Choir delighted us with Little Donkey. The Norwich Philharmonic Chorus were in fine voice all night. Timothy Patient gave an organ solo of Mr Mozart Takes a Sleigh Ride on a night to celebrate Christmas.

La traviata at The Royal Opera House

I was back at The Royal Opera House for La traviata in the evening with The Royal Opera performing Verdi's classic opera. This was another opportunity to experience the magical atmosphere at this historic Covent Garden venue.

La traviata is is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on Alexandre Dumas Fils's play La dame aux Camelias. The title means The Fallen Woman and was originally entitled Violetta.

In Act I Violetta Valery greets party guests at her Paris salon which include Flora with her escort the Marquis d'Obigny. Gastone introduces Alfredo Germont to Violetta and tells her that Alfredo called on her anxiously each day during her recent illness. Everyone joins in a song in praise of wine and pleasure called Libiamo ne' lieti calici.

Music is heard from another room and Violetta invites her guests to dance. Suddenly she feels unsteady and tells the others to go on without her. Alfredo stays behind and confesses his love for Violetta who protests that love means nothing to her. While alone Violetta reflects on Alfredo's unexpected declaration of love but recalls that she is destined for a life of pleasure.

Act 2 begins with Alfredo reflecting on three idyllic months he has now spent with Violetta at a country house near Paris. Annina arrives to tell Alfredo that she was sent to Paris by Violetta who has been selling her belongings to pay for their life together. Alfredo's father Germont arrives and accuses Violetta of ruining his son. He is shocked to find out that she is supporting the couple. Germont begs Violetta to leave Alfredo as their liaison is putting his daughter's forthcoming marriage into jeopardy and eventually she agrees.

Violetta scibbles a note and gives it to Annina and begins another to Alfredo but is interrupted by his return. Violetta wants reassurance of Alfredo's love for her before she runs away. Alfredo is comforted by his Father but he is inconsolable and goes to Flora's party and swears to avenge himself. At the party Flora and her new lover discuss the seperation of Alfredo and Violetta while a group of guests dressed as gypsies sing and some real gypsies dance.

Alfredo challenged Baron Douphol to a game of cards which the Baron loses and swears revenge. Violetta begs Alfredo to escape from the Baron's wrath and he agrees if she follows him. She tells Alfredo that she cannot go with him because she now loves the Baron. In anger he flings his winnings at Violetta and tells everyone he has paid back for their time together. The Baron swears to avenge the insult to Violetta.

In Act III Violetta is desperately ill and has only a few hours to live. She reads a letter from Germont explaining that Alfredo who fled the country after wounding the Baron in a duel and is coming to beg her to pardon him. Alfredo arrives and falls into Violetta's arms asking her to forgive him and his father. Violetta rallies briefly and gives Alfredo a locket containing her portrait telling him that if he marries he must give it to his bride she then collapses and dies.

The whole cast gave a splendid performance especially Ailyn Perez who played Violetta Valery. Piotr Beczala was outstanding as Alfredo which gave the magic of Verdi something special to make this an evening to remember. A night of laughter and tears that moved everyone at The Royal Opera House.

Thursday 22 December 2011

The Sleeping Beauty at The Royal Opera House

I made my way on an early morning train to London on Saturday 17th December 2011 eagerly looking forward to my visit to The Royal Opera House. It was a 12 noon start for the matinee performance of The Sleeping Beauty by The Royal Ballet so as soon as I arrived at Liverpool Street I made my way to Covent Garden.

The Sleeping Beauty was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg in 1890.This was the ballet where Marius Petipa and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky expressed their genius to perfection. Today it is a cornerstone of The Royal Ballet's repertory. It was an afternoon to be taken to a world of fairytales full of splendour and colour with wonderful dancing.

King Florestan XXIV and his Queen have invited all the fairies to be godmothers at the christening of Princess Aurora. In her anger at not being invited Carabosse the Wicked Fairy gives Aurora a spindle saying that one day the Princess will prick her finger and die. The Lilac Fairy promises that Aurora will not die but fall into a deep sleep and will be woken by a prince's kiss.

At Princess Aurora's 16th birthday four princes vie for her hand in marriage. As Aurora dances she is given a spindle by an old woman which she pricks her finger with and falls into a dead faint. The old women reveals herself as Carabosse. The Lilac Fairy appears to fulfil her promise and casts a spell of sleep over everyone causing a thick forest to grow over the palace.

One hundred years later Prince Florimund is hunting in the forest when the Lilac Fairy appears and shows him a vision of Princess Aurora. Outside the palace gates the Lilac Fairy repells Carabosse and at last Prince Florimund awakens Princess Aurora with a kiss. Fairytale characters come to the wedding of Prince Florimund and Princess Aurora. They all join in the celebrations and the Lilac Fairy blesses the marriage.

This was a magical afternoon to be at the Royal Opera House. It was an amazing experience to see The Royal Ballet perform live especially as The Sleeping Beauty is such a wonderful story and spectacle to watch. Tchaikovsky's music was performed brilliantly by the Orchestra of The Royal Opera House. A special mention needs to go out to Marianela Nunez who danced the role of Princess Aurora splendidly and completely delighted the audience. The Royal Ballet brought amazing movement and colour to this enchanting fairytale.

Friday 16 December 2011

Elgar back home at Norwich's St. Andrew's Hall

I was back at St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich on Saturday 10th December 2011 for the latest Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra concert which always means a large audience at this historic venue. This was a special night due to the links between Sir Edward Elgar and concert sponsors Hansells. The composer become good friends with Norwich solicitor Walter Hansell when he came to Norwich in 1905 to rehearse for the triennial Norwich Music Festival. The night's concert featured Elgar's Cello Concerto.

On the evening the Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra were conducted by Matthew Andrews with Philadelphia born Bartholomew LaFollette as cello soloist. the full programme consisted of Helios Overture - Nielsen, Cello Concerto in E minor - Elgar, Egdon Heath - Holst and Symphony No.5 in E flat - Sibelius.

The opening piece of the evening Helios Overture was composed by Nielsen in 1903 while in Athens and inspired by the sight of the sun rising over the Aegean Sea. This was followed by Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor which included an incredible performance from soloist Bartholomew LaFollette who along with his cello made St. Andrew's Hall his own which resulted in loud and warm applause from the enthusiastic audience.

After the interval we were given a splendid performance of Egdon Heath, Holst's portrait of a landscape which was inspired by Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native. This was followed by my highlight of the night with music by one of my favourite composers. Sibelius composed his Symphony No.5 in E flat as part of the celebrations for his fiftieth birthday in 1915 though the definitive score was not released until 1919.

This was a mighty way to finish the concert and how better to conclude then with the six massive majestic strokes at the end of the Symphony. This was a night of triumph for the Norwich Philharmonic Society who for 171 years has it's main object to promote and perform orchestral and choral music. Tonight they performed orchestral music that they can be very proud of.

Thursday 15 December 2011

The UEA Symphony Orchestra bring us Christmas Joy

On Friday 9th December 2011 I made my way to St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich for the UEA Symphony Orchestra and Choir Christmas Concert. This was their first concert since it was announced that the UEA School of Music would close. During the evening Sharon Andrea Choa reassured us that these concerts would continue in the future with support from the UEA.

The programme consisted of Violin Concerto in F minor, Winter - Vivaldi, Gloria RV 589 - Vivaldi, God is With Us - Tavener, What Sweeter Music - Rutter, Sir Christemas from 'Ave Rex' - Mathias and Fantasia on Christmas Carols - Williams.

The conductors for this festive celebration were Sharon Andrea Choa and Tom Primrose. Soloists were Simon Smith - violin, Dhilan Gnadadurai - baritone, Billie Robson and Verity Ransom - soprano, Matthew O'Keeffe - countertenor and Kris Tomsett - organist.

Vivaldi's Winter evokes the cold icy wind while sitting next to the fireside before venturing outside to walk on the ice. After some slips and falls the ice cracks and breaks up and back indoors we hear all the winds battling it out. Simon Smith brought us all the joys of Winter with his fine violin playing.

Oh the glory of Vivaldi's glory, yes Antonio Vivaldi again this time bringing us Gloria in excelsis. This was a glorious performance from the Orchestra and Choir that lifted the spirits of everyone in attendance at St. Andrew's Hall. Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to men of goodwill.

After the interval we were treated with Sir John Tavener's God is With Us which is a work commissioned in 1987 for the Choir of Winchester Cathedral. This was followed by John Rutter's What Sweeter Music which sets words adapted from a poem by Robert Herrick.

Next to be performed was Sir Christemas from Ave Rex composed by William Mathias. Ave Rex is a setting of four medieval carol texts composed in 1969. In this piece the choir shout a final Nowell. The concert finished with Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols written in 1912. This was a wonderful way to finish this splendid and heart warming concert. I'm sure everyone in attendance were put into the Christmas spirit and left St. Andrew's Hall with smile on their faces.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Macbeth tragedy at UEA

I was back at the UEA Drama Studio on Thursday 8th December 2011 for William Shakespeare's Macbeth another production from the University's final year Drama students. This is Shakespeare's tragedy of power, corruption and bloodshed.

The play is set in the bleak landscape of medieval Scotland. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with the prophecy of the three witches are tempted into a ruthless hunt for glory. Dark and full of horror, Macbeth is not for the faint hearted.

The setting created on the night was spot on as we were taken back to the 11th Century. This was another triumph from the UEA Third Year Production Team. I enjoyed both my visits to the UEA Drama Studio where I experienced a warm and friendly atmosphere.

All-Female Twelfth Night at UEA

I made my way to the UEA Drama Studio on Wednesday 7th December 2011 for an all-female production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night by the University's final year Drama students. It was a night that put a new perspective on this funny and moving comedy as it is normally performed by an all-male cast.

Shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Viola disguises herself as a boy in order to serve the Duke of Illyria. While wooing a countess on his behalf she finds herself the object of his beloved's affections.

Viola's brother Sebastian arrives and a trick is played upon the countess' steward Malvolio. Confusion reigns in this romantic comedy of mistaken identity.

A fun time was had by all with lots of laughter filling the UEA Drama Studio. There were splendid performances from all the cast who brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to this play that is full of shifts and surprises.

Monday 12 December 2011

Anoushka Shankar live at Queen Elizabeth Hall

On Monday 5th December 2011 I attended Anoushka Shankar's concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on her Traveller UK Tour. A night where Indian music and flamenco met with thrilling results. These two forms of music have a link through the Roma Gypsies who originated in Northern India.

On her latest album Traveller Anoushka Shankar has created a fusion of flamenco and Indian classical music with Spanish producer and guitarist Javier Limon. The centrepiece of the album is Boy Meets Girl which is a wonderful duet of flamenco guitar and sitar featuring Pepe Habichuela.

Anoushka Shankar was taught to play the sitar by her father Ravi Shankar and at Queen Elizabeth Hall she created a magical sound in front of a sellout crowd down by the South Bank. It was wonderful to see her play live alongside the Spanish musicians bringing the amazing Traveller album to a live audience. A brilliant evening which highlighted one of World Music's brightest stars.

Friday 9 December 2011

Dexterity Trio Delight

On Sunday 4th December 2011 I took the afternoon walk to St. Andrew's Church, Eaton, Norwich for the latest concert in the Eaton Concert Series with the Dexterity Trio featuring Anna Hopkins - flute, Maja Passchier - cello and David Morgan - piano.

The programme consisted of Trio no 30 in F major - Haydn, Trio Miniaturen - Juon, Trio - Steel, Sonata in G minor - Telemann, Sonate en Concert - Damase and Kleines Trio on Irish Themes - Rowley. A varied programme that made for an interesting afternoon of music.

All members of this Norfolk-based trio are highly respected musicians with successful careers devoted to teaching and performing. They provided a delightful concert for the enthusiastic audience which included informative commentary on the pieces from David Morgan.

A night of Winter Songs

On Saturday 3rd December 2011 I made my way to St. John the Baptist Catholic Cathedral, Norwich for the Winter Songs - Songs of light and dark concert featuring The Voice Project Choir, Human Music, Big Sky and Andy Sheppard on saxophone.

This was an evening of contemporary vocal music which included a wide range of original material all taking place at this beautiful building with it's wonderful acoustics. Special guest Andy Sheppard is one of Britain's top saxophonists who truly made this a splendid night.

The music was full of contrasts which combined light and dark making for an interesting performance. From Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind to Darest Thou Now O Soul we were taken on an amazing vocal journey. This was a very memorable concert that was warmly received by the audience and enjoyed by everyone including The Voice Project Choir who applauded us all at the end.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Preparing for Christmas

On Saturday 3rd December 2011 I attended the Mancroft Music Preparing for Christmas Autumn Recital at St. Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich which was the last in the series. This recital was given by The Girls' Choir, Choral Scholars and Organ Scholars of St. Peter Mancroft.

The programme consisted of  In dulci jubilo BWV 729 - Bach, Adam lay ybounden - Ledger, Lift up your heads, O ye gates - Mathias, A round of carols - Kelly, Gottes Sohn ist Kommen - Bach, I saw three ships - Traditional carol arr. Anne MacDearmid, Vom Himmel hoch, da komm'ich her - Zachau and A Ceremony of Carols - Britten.

 This was a wonderful way to celebrate the arrival of Christmas and a delightful way to finish the current series of Autumn Recitals. A large crowd was in attendance who enjoyed splendid and enthusiastic performances from everyone that turned all our thoughts to Christmas.

Monday 5 December 2011

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

On Wednesday 30th November 2011 I made my way to Norwich Arts Centre for the showing of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors with A Hawk And A Hacksaw playing a rescore of the soundtrack. This was a special show only being played at this beautiful Norwich venue along with The Barbican and All Tomorrow's Parties Festival.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is the first major work by the legendary Russian filmmaker Sergei Parajadnov. Hailed as a genius by the likes of Fellini, Antonioni and Tarkovsky, his films are as allegorical and mysterious as Byzantine frescos, each a beautiful riot of small movements within his almost always static frames.

For us lucky enough to be at Norwich Arts Centre it was a night to be taken to another world. The film is the story of a young Ukrainian peasant who marries the daughter of his father’s killer, loses her, falls into a long spiral of sadness and then remarries again, with tragic results. Paradjanov enriches the tale with occult imagery, swooping camerawork and a wide tableaux of breathtaking landscapes.

A Hawk And A Hacksaw the folk duo from New Mexico were brilliant on the night with their wonderful music making the perfect complement for this epic story. This was a unique evening that will be long remembered by the audience who showed their appreciation at the end with warm and loud applause.

Friday 2 December 2011

Dusk is falling at The John Innes Centre

On Sunday afternoon I made my way to The John Innes Centre at Colney for the latest Norfolk and Norwich Chamber Music concert featuring the Royal String Quartet and Alessandro Taverna. It was a 5.30pm start at the Norwich Research Park's Conference Centre. This is a wonderful building for Classical Music with about 300 seats.

The Royal String Quartet are from Warsaw, Poland and consist of Izabella Szalaj-Zimak - violin, Elwira Przybylowska - violin, Marek Czech - viola and Michal Pepol - cello. Pianist Alessandro Taverna was born in Venice, Italy.

The programme for the concert was String Quartet No.1 Op.62 Already It Is Dusk - Gorecki, Valse in C sharp minor Op.64/2 - Chopin, Introduction and Rondo in E flat major Op.16 - Chopin, String Quartet No.2 Op.56 - Szymanowski and Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor Op.11 - Chopin.

The Royal String Quartet were a member of BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artists from 2004-2006. Since 2004 they have run their own chamber music festival in Warsaw under the title of Kwartesencja. Alessandro Taverna has won many piano competitions and travels extensively appearing in most of the international concert halls.

This was a concert completely devoted to music from Poland. With the traditional and romantic world of Chopin to the 20th Century world of Szymanowski to Gorecki. Dusk is falling at The John Innes Centre but we're not scared of the wicked devils as we have put ourselves in the hands of The Royal String Quartet and Alessandro Taverna to entertain us.

A wonderful time was had by all as we were taken to the avant-garde world of Gorecki and the folk melodies of Szymanowski's music as well as beautiful works from Chopin. This was a high quality concert at The John Innes Centre with a brilliant line up and a splendid programme of music.  

Thursday 1 December 2011

Music of the Spirit

On the evening of Saturday 26th November 2011 I made my way back to St. Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich for The Jay Singers Music of the Spirit concert directed by Neil MacKenzie who is their new conductor and is a graduate of Clare College, Cambridge. He was a founder member of The Sixteen and later joined the BBC Singers.

The programme consisted of Der Geist Hilft - Bach, Looquebantur - Tallis, Justorum Animae - Byrd, Justorum Animae - Stanford, Never Weather Beaten Sail - Campian, Five Folksongs - Williams, My Spirit Sang All Day - Finzi, Deep In My Soul - Elgar, Ave Maris Stella - Grieg, The Gallant Weaver - MacMillan and Five Negro Spirituals - Tippert.

The Jay Singers have been in existence for more than 15 years as one of the foremost choirs in East Anglia and what a joy it was to be at St. Peter Mancroft Church on Saturday evening with singing of the highest quality. Byrd's Justorum Animae was out of this world. A wonderful time was had by all as we celebrated the music of the spirit.