Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Allegri Quartet perform Beethoven and Shostakovich

On Tuesday 29th January 2013 I attended the Allegri Quartet's concert of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.95, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 11 and Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 131 in the Strode Concert Room at the UEA School of Music. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience this excellent Quartet live performing the music of two of my favourite composers.

Founded in 1953 by Eli Goren, William Pleeth, Patrick Ireland and James Barton, the Allegri Quartet is Britain's longest-running chamber music ensemble, sustained over six decades by successive generations of the finest international performers. The current members of Ofer Falk, Rafael Todes, Dorothea Vogel and Vanessa Lucas-Smith are committed to maintaining the group’s exceptional reputation and dedicate a great deal of time to teaching young performers and composers through various residency schemes which are supported by the Radcliffe Trust. They are the UEA's professional Ensemble in Residence.

Beethoven's F minor String Quartet dates from 1810 and is his last before his exalted late string quartets. It is commonly referred to as the Serioso, stemming from his title Quartetto Serioso at the beginning and the tempo designation for the third movement. It is one of the shortest and most compact of all the Beethoven quartets. This is music full of restless urgency which ends with a racing allegro full of lightness and delicacy.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 11 was written in 1966 and was dedicated to the memory of Vasily Petrovich Shirinsky, the second violinist of the Beethoven Quartet who had died the year before. In the latter half of Shostakovich's career his music grew more private and introspective for which the string quartet offered an ideal medium.

Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 131 was completed in July 1826 as part of a group of five string quartets which he wrote in the last years of his life. This work, which is dedicated to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim, was Beethoven's favourite from the late quartets. He is quoted as remarking to a friend that he would find a new manner of part-writing and, thank God, less lack of imagination than before. The piece is in seven movements played without without a break.

The Allegri Quartet put on a wonderful performance at the UEA School of Music which thrilled a packed Strode Concert Room. I particularly enjoyed Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 11 which is an astonishing piece of music. It has been created by someone who has seen and suffered much and is concerned only with essentials.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Ashley Grote Big Screen Organ Recital

On Thursday 24th January 2013 I attended the big screen lunchtime organ recital at Norwich Cathedral performed by the Cathedral's Master of Music Ashley Grote. The programme consisted of Allegro from Symphonie II in E minor Op 20 - Vierne, Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 532 - Bach, Choral Song and Fugue - Wesley and Variations sur un vieux Noel Op 20 - Dupre.

Ashley Grote was a chorister at King's College, Cambridge and continued his education as a music scholar at Uppingham School. After a year as organ scholar at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, he returned to study for a degree in music as King's College, Cambridge. As organ scholar at King's he performed internationally with the world-famous choir and accompanied numerous recordings, radio and television broadcasts including the annual 'Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols'.

Ashley has subsequently held posts as Organist-in-residence at Tonbridge School (2004-05), assistant Organist at Westminster Abbey (2005-08) and assistant Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral (2008-12). During his time at Gloucester, he has performed in the Three Choirs Festival, the Cheltenham Music Festival, with Gloucester and Bristol Choral Societies, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic and Bournemouth Symphony orchestras. He has also directed the Cathedral's flourishing Youth Choir, Ross-on-Wye Choral Society and the St Cecilia Singers, a Gloucester-based chamber choir. Ashley was also involved in the Edington Music Festival, first as Organist (2007-09) and then Director (2010-12).

Ashley has studied the organ with Nicolas Kynaston in London since 2002. As a soloist and accompanist he has performed throughout the UK, USA and Europe and been broadcast extensively on BBC Radio and Television. His first solo recording of organ symphonies by Louis Viente was released in June.

Despite the freezing weather conditions, an audience of over 70 spectators witnessed Ashley Grote perform a number of organ classics during the 40 minute recital. This was a brilliant way to spend my lunchtime with Norwich Cathedral being only a 10 minute walk from work for me. The programme of music was very varied and evoked lots of different emotions during the recital. These lunchtime recital are a wonderful idea by Norwich Cathedral and I'm already looking forward to the next one in February.

Kiss Me Kate at The Old Vic

On the evening of Saturday 19th January 2013 I made my way from London's West End across the River Thames to Waterloo Station and then onto The Old Vic Theatre for the evening performance of the dazzling multi award-winning classic Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate. This glittering new production, directed by Trevor Nunn, starred Christopher Dickins, David Burt, Adam Garcia, Clive Rowe and Hannah Waddingham. The Chichester Festival Theatre's 2012 revival of the show transferred to the Old Vic Theatre in November 2012, with an official opening in December. The show has received positive reviews from critics and audiences.

Kiss Me, Kate is a musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The story involves the production of a musical version of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and the conflict on and off-stage between Fred Graham, the show's director, producer, and star, and his leading lady, his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. A secondary romance concerns Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill, who runs afoul with some gangsters.

Kiss Me, Kate is full of wonderful songs throughout the show. The songs in Act I are "Another Op'nin', Another Show" – Hattie and Company, "Why Can't You Behave?" – Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun, "Wunderbar" – Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, "So in Love" – Lilli Vanessi, "We Open in Venice" – Fred Graham, Lilli Vanessi, Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun, "Tom, Dick or Harry" – Bianca, Lucentio, Gremio and Hortensio, "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" – Fred Graham and The Men, "I Hate Men" – Lilli Vanessi, "Were Thine That Special Face" – Fred Graham, "We Sing of Love (Cantiamo D'Amore)" – Lois Lane, Bill Calhoun and Ensemble and "Kiss Me, Kate" – Fred Graham, Lili Vanessi and Ensemble.

In Act II the songs are Too Darn Hot" – Paul and Ensemble, "Where is the Life That Late I Led?" – Fred Graham, "Always True to You in My Fashion" – Lois Lane, "From This Moment On" – Harrison Howell and Lilli Vanessi, "Bianca" – Bill Calhoun and Company, "So in Love" (Reprise) – Fred Graham, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" – First Gangster and Second Gangster, "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple" – Lilli Vanessi and "Kiss Me, Kate" (Reprise = Finale) – Company.

The Old Vic was established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian Baylis assumed management and began a series of Shakespeare productions in 1914. The building was damaged in 1940 during air raids and it became a Grade II listed building in 1951 after it reopened.

It was also the name of a repertory company that was based at the theatre. The company formed the core of the National Theatre of Great Britain on its formation in 1963, under Laurence Olivier. The National Theatre remained at the Old Vic until new premises were constructed on the South Bank, opening in 1976. It underwent complete refurbishment in 1985. In 2003 Kevin Spacey was appointed as new artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre Company which received considerable media attention.

It was an amazing experience to visit The Old Vic and attend such a wonderful show as Kiss Me, Kate. This Theatre is full of history and such a beautiful building and was the perfect place to enjoy such a brilliant musical. There was a capacity audience on the night who were entertained for three hours with a splendid  performance from all the cast which included lots of laughs on the way. I really enjoyed all the great songs which made this truly a night to remember.

Friday 25 January 2013

Viva Forever! at the Piccadilly Theatre

On Saturday 19th January 2013 I caught the National Express coach to London for a journey through the snow for a day in the West End. My first show of the day was the matinee performance of Viva Forever! at the Piccadilly Theatre which is wowing audiences with its clever mix of classic Spice Girls hits combined with Jennifer Saunders' irresistibly funny story.

Bringing some much needed spice to the West End, the show charts the journey of a girl and the people around her she loves, as she's propelled into the superficial world of Starmaker a TV talent show that offers the fame and fortune she thinks she craves. But life in the spotlight isn't everything it's cracked up to be, for the contestants, their families or even those who have the deciding votes.

This wonderful musical includes the hit songs Stop, Say You'll Be There, 2 Become 1 and many more Spice Girls classics which ensured that Viva Forever!hit all the high notes for a fabulous time in the West End. The Piccadilly Theatre was the place to spice up your life as this exhilarating new musical that celebrates love, friendship and just being who you really, really wanna be made this a fun afternoon for a capacity audience.

Monday 14 January 2013

Epiphany Carol Service at St. Peter Mancroft Church

On Sunday 13th January 2013 I attended the Epiphany Carol Service at St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich City Centre. This was an evening service that started at 6.30 pm to celebrate the Baptism of Christ. O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; Bow down before him, his glory proclaim; With gold of obedience and incense of lowliness, kneel and adore him: The Lord is his name. In the Church of England if Epiphany is observed on 6 January or before, the Baptism of Christ is observed on the following Sunday.

The Choir at St. Peter Mancroft Church sang a number of wonderful hymns including When Christ was born of Mary free - John Gardner, Bethlehem Down - Peter Warlock, A New Year Carol - Benjamin Britten, Tomorrow shall be my dancing day - John Gardner, Brightest and best - Malcolm Archer and The Journey - Simon Lole. During the service gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh were laid upon the alter.

The story of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan features in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Sing, ye heights of heav'n, His praises; Angels and Archangels, sing! Wheresoe'er ye be, ye faithful, let your joyous anthems ring, ev'ry tongue his name confessing, countless voices answering, evermore and evermore.

Friday 11 January 2013

Angela Hewitt directs Britten Sinfonia

On Tuesday 8th January 2013 I attended the Angela Hewitt directs Britten Sinfonia concert at Norwich Theatre Royal. Acknowledged as one of the finest pianists of her generation, Angela Hewitt made an eagerly awaited return to Norwich Theatre Royal. In this concert she performed two Beethoven piano concertos. Thomas Gould directed pieces from Wagner and Sibelius.

The programme consisted of Siegfried Idyll - Wagner, Piano Concerto No.2 - Beethoven, Scene with Cranes - Sibelius and Piano Concerto No.4 - Beethoven. This was a wonderful set of music for a Winter's evening in the Fine City of Norwich.

Wagner composed the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima after the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869. Written in one single sweeping movement, the Idyll opens with a theme from Wagner’s opera, Siegfried, which was completed the previous year. The second theme, for oboe, is that of a lullaby which Wagner intended to use in a piece for their daughter, Eva.

Beethoven composed his Piano Concerto No.2 primarily between 1787 and 1789, although it did not attain the form it was published as until 1795. Beethoven did write another finale for it in 1798 for performance in Prague, but that is not the finale that it was published with. It was used by the composer as a vehicle for his own performances as a young virtuoso.

Scene with Cranes was composed in 1903 as part of the incidental music that Jean Sibelius created for his brother-in-law Arvid J√§rnefelt's play Kuolema (or ‘Death’). While the play is a rather macabre tale of a family being chased by death, in the second scene the young man sees his future wife within a dream and as they fall asleep together in a forest, a flock of cranes fly overhead, with one crane breaking away from the flock to deliver a baby to the lovers.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4 was composed in 1805 and 1806. Despite asking a number of renowned pianists to perform the work, each of them refused and, left with little choice, Beethoven was forced to give the work’s premiere himself, first in a private concert to his patron Prince Lobkowitz in March 1807 and later in its public premiere in Vienna in December 1808.

There was a wonderful atmosphere at Norwich Theatre Royal as Angela Hewitt performed two Beethoven Piano Concertos. I enjoyed Wagner's Siegfried Idyll greatly and this proved to be the perfect opening to the concert. The Scene with Cranes brought a touch of nature to the evening. Angela Hewitt's performance was of the highest quality and it was obvious that she was enjoying playing with Britten Sinfonia.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Julian Haggett Organ Recital at St. Peter Mancroft Church

After the New Year's Day Organ Recital at Norwich Cathedral on Tuesday 1st January 2013 I walked to the St. Peter Mancroft Church for the New Year Organ Recital from Julian Haggett who is the Organist at the church. He has toured on organ in Asia, Europe and the United Kingdom Recital venues.

The programme consisted of Prelude and Fugue D BWV 532 - Bach, Jesus accepte la souffrance (La Nativite du Seignuer) - Messiaen, Chorale Prelude In dulci jubilo BWV 729 - Bach, Jesus est bien Marie - Balbastre, Suisse Noel - Daquin, Chorale Preludes In dir ist Frelude BWV 615 - Bach, Wie Schon leuchtet der Morgenstern - Pachelbel, Les Mages (La Nativite du Seignuer) - Messiaen and Toccata from Symphony V in F minor - Widor.

This was another wonderful Organ Recital in Norwich to start the New Year in style. The varied programme of music from Julian Haggett ranged from Bach to the twentieth century organ music of Messiaen. It is always a splendid experience to listen to music in this historic Norwich church next to Norwich Marketplace.

New Year's Day Organ Recital at Norwich Cathedral

On Tuesday 1st January 2013 I attended the New Year's Day Organ Recital from Kris Thomsett at Norwich Cathedral which delivered some New Year cheer with a varied programme of organ favourites. The programme consisted of Carillon de Westminster - Vierne, Praeludium in C Bux137 - Buxtehude, Wachet Auf Ruft Uns Die Stimme BWV 645 - Bach, Dialogue Sur Les Mixtures - Langlais, Radetzky March - Johann Strauss, Toccata (Symphony No.5) - Widor and Hornpipe Humoresque - Rawsthorne.  Elgar's Nimod was added to the programme by Kris on the day.

Kris Thomsett is currently Organ Scholar of Norwich Cathedral, a post he will hold for the next three years whilst completing a degree in music at the University of East Anglia. Prior to coming to Norwich, Kris was Organ Scholar of Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex for his gap year. His role in Chelmsford, similar to that here, involved accompanying the daily services and regularly playing for the Cathedral Girls Choir.

Kris started the organ at the age of twelve, and at the age of fourteen was appointed Organ Scholar of All Saints parish church in Maidstone (Kent). After being there for just over a year, Kris then moved on to become Organ Scholar of the King's School in Rochester where he accompanied the schools' services in the Cathedral. Whilst there, Kris studied the organ with Roger Sayer. As well as playing the organ, Kris enjoys singing and has sung counter-tenor in Rochester, Chelmsford, and now Norwich, Cathedrals

This was a wonderful way to start the New Year as Norwich Cathedral was filled with wonderful organ music from the brilliant piece by Buxtehude to the traditional march from Johann Strauss. Kris Thomsett finished the recital with the jolly Hornpipe Humoresque which put lots of smiles on faces in the audience.