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Blog Category: live performance

Female voices creating disharmony

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female voices creating disharmony
The decision by St Paul’s Cathedral to appoint its first fulltime female chorister, Carris Jones, has led a leading counter-tenor and conductor, Grayston Burgess, to comment, “This ‘politically correct’ decision appears to have been taken without a thought for the musical aspect or its consequence —the next logical step is to appoint another female alto to ‘balance’ the two sides of the choir”. (The Daily Telegraph).

The indignation in this I find hard to understand. As a clarinettist my expertise admittedly is in passing an airstream through a wooden tube rather than across vocal cords but the amount of energy that is extended to keep tradition for its own sake continues to confound me.

I can understand from certain points of view that in order to be faithful to the sound of the forces for which the music was originally written, in this case, an all-male choir may be needed but surely that is unnecessarily restricting and shouldn’t be imposed unilaterally. Are all cathedrals across the country to be exclusive clubs?

Why should generations of excellent female singers be prevented from contributing to a musical choral tradition and denied the benefit of the excellent musical education which often comes as part of the package?

There is much discussion about whether boys voices do really sound different, given the distortions of many acoustics but does it actually matter so very much, whatever your point of view? What is needed is strong and growing choirs able to tackle contemporary works by living composers as well as sustaining the traditional repertoire.

There is nothing new in the classical tradition of women singing men’s songs and it is even questionable whether some of the staples of cathedral music such as Tallis and Byrd were sung by all male choirs at all.

From a personal point of view, I believe that there is a purity of sound from the all-male choir that can be used effectively for performances of relevant music just as early instruments are also used to good effect for certain music. However, with a vibrant contemporary 21st century music scene I firmly believe we should be able to take advantage of using the combined voices of male and female as well. (I don’t think the BBC Singers or Harry Christopher’s 16 would be quite the same without the ladies!)

The church is having to look at all aspects of its traditions in the context of modern life, particularly as the 21st century progresses. Music is an area where the church is always exploring and trying to move forward, so it would seem to make complete sense to avail itself of the strength and vitality that the quality of voice of both male and female provides.

Geraldine Allen

Opinions divided on David Bowie Prom

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Categories: british performers, eclectic music, live performance, tributes
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David Bowie

David Bowie

Ever since the oversight of Roger Wright, the Proms Festival has pushed its boundaries and widened its horizons.

David Pickard’s crossover programme taking Bowie’s repertoire and giving it new treatments by Anna Calvi, John Cale, Marc Almond, Laura Mvula and Elf Kid, sought to pay homage but has attracted widely and wildly diverse reactions and polarised opinion.

Here’s a sample, which just goes to show, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!

David Bowie – BBC Proms 2016………..totally amazing, emotionally and a worthy tribute to the greatest “STAR” Thank you to the BBC

Caught up with proms tribute to David Bowie. Wished I had not bothered. The great man must be turning in his grave.

BBC Proms completely destroyed David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Controversial but true. Just sing the song.BBC Proms completely destroyed David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Controversial but true. Just sing the song.

BBC proms David Bowie @MarcAlmond excellent job with Life on Mars. Pathos and beauty.

Watched majority of David Bowie celebration at the BBC Proms. I saw ‘majority’ because I couldn’t watch Marc Almond murder ‘Life on Mars’.

The David Bowie Proms were great but the bloke who sang Life on Mars butchered it and infuriated me.

Thought it’d be better than this, then again you can’t replicate a genius like Bowie!

Watching the proms tribute to David Bowie. Great arrangements for classic songs.

The Bowie Prom was superb, radical and moving at the same time. And I think I’ve fallen in love with the flautist!

T.S.Eliot at Kings Lynn Festival

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Categories: british performers, live performance

Guy Johnston

Guy Johnston

Niamh Cusack

Niamh Cusack

Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams








Guy Johnston, Niamh Cusack and Rowan Williams illuminate T.S. Eliot

The Festival season is upon us! The summer months bring out the banners and bandstands, bowties and batons. Although, it is fair to say that the fervour for music within the British Isles usually means there is something going on somewhere the length and breadth of the year.

Back to the summer scene, and I have just had my first taste of the season with a performance at the Kings Lynn Festival. A programme built round T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets consisted of readings given by Niamh Cusack, commentaries by Rowan Williams and interpolated music from the Bach unaccompanied cello suites by Guy Johnston.

A full house of 800 gave pin-drop attention to the performances. From the aesthetic viewpoint, It was as near perfect an evening as you will find – sensitive, probing, alert, even profound – full of music not just in the notes but in the words and thoughts; an occasion that uplifts and continues to resonate.

There is so much going on from Aldeburgh to Edinburgh, from Proms to Parks. Try this link ARTS FESTIVALS in the UK as a good collecting point for all that’s in the melting pot – find something near you and support the summer festival scene!

Proms 2016 Panoply – where are the women composers this year?

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David Pickard - Proms Director

David Pickard

The announcement of the 2016 BBC Proms season brought forth a panoply of comment and observation.
Here are a few choice entries, editorials and utterances to get your interest piqued.
David Pickard is the new Proms Director and as incoming incumbent he largely inherits what has already been prepared and put into place by outgoing Proms Director, Roger Wright, and perhaps more significantly Interim Proms Director, Edward Blakeman.

In response to a question about venues for the season outside the Royal Albert Hall, this is what Pickard chose to highlight: “I’m interested in exploring how we reach out to audiences across London. So as I started to think about that I started to get quite intrigued about matching music to venues in an interesting way. So for example, the Shakespeare Prom in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse seemed like the perfect match; or the chance to hear Steve Reich’s music in a multi-storey car park in Peckham, that seemed ideal too.” Hmm. La Mer at sea? or Night on a Bare Mountain in the Cairngorms?

In answer to the question, What do you think has sustained the Proms?, David Pickard replied: “Different directors, I think. The Proms history is absolutely fascinating. From when the BBC took over the festival, to William Glock taking over as Director, and what happened after Glock. There is a fascinating narrative about how when each different person came along there was a change. The impact that television had when it was first introduced under Robert Ponsonby’s directorship was significant too. Nowadays television is incredibly important to the BBC Proms. And of course, the most recent change for us has been the impact of digital on how people enjoy the Proms: last year in particular the catch-up figures on BBC iPlayer soared.” And where I wonder do Wood, Drummond, Kenyon and Wright figure? To name but a few omissions!

And here’s a bit of flam – Pickard on his new responsibility as Proms Director: “Oh, a huge responsibility, of course. To be honest with you, I’ve had that in a lot of my jobs. It’s something you become accustomed to. But when you’re getting accustomed to that responsibility, you’ll come to realise that you’d be mad not to respect that legacy or history. And that’s where the vision comes in for me: if you look at the origins of the Proms you find the reason why the festival existed in the first place. You don’t start a job like this and think its going to be a different festival, you have to remember that this event, as its always been, has been about bringing the best of classical music to the widest possible audience. Why was the festival set up? Why is it still going? It’s because the initial idea is still relevant today. Obviously, what is the best music in 1895 when the festival started isn’t necessarily what some people regard the best in 2016. But, the original vision remains the same.”

Gramophone online picked out these items as Festival Focus: first, the cello, with 10 concertos receiving performances, including Elgar’s on the First Night (Sol Gabetta with the BBC SO and Sakari Oramo), Alban Gerhardt in the Dvořák Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit on August 3, and the world premiere of Huw Watkins’s Concerto with his brother Paul the soloist alongside the BBC NOW and conductor Thomas Søndergård on August 12; next, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s with music from Purcell to Hans Abrahamsen and Duke Ellington; finally, the Brazil Olympics so a particular focus on music from Latin America.

Now here’s the thing, in Henry Wood’s day, the Proms was a wonderful vehicle for new music by living composers, and from a quick count, it looks as if there are 37 living composers featured on the 2016 roster. Let’s delve a little deeper – of the 37, 20 are homegrown, and of that 20, just 5 are women. Of those 20, 14 hit the prime evening spot in the Royal Albert Hall, but a mere 3 of these are women composers. Come on, David, let’s see you fly the flag a bit more and try to tick the equality box!

Silence Speaks

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Just a few seconds before 11am on Wednesday 11 November 2015, I was descending the steps into Kings Cross Underground Station in London when a voice came over the tannoy asking that we join with the staff of London Underground in 2 minutes silence to honour those people who had been killed in two world wars and more recent hostilities.

The effect was extraordinary – the people who heard the message hesitated for a moment and one by one stopped their journey and became still and silent. The seconds moved slowly and as new people arrived, they stopped and joined in the silent meditation. The effect was surreal: rather like a film where the action has been paused. And then just as surprisingly the voice came over the tannoy thanking us for joining in the time of remembrance and the film of life jerked into action and off we travelled again.

What will remain with me was the effect of that silence in a busy underground terminal and the way that it drew people together and held our shared attention, making the moment significant in a way that nothing else could.

The significance of silence is recognised by any performer, it is part of your technique of holding the audience with you. Silence is as much a part of the composer’s palette as the notes, and we the interpreters are responsible for inviting the listeners onto the musical canvas with us to be part of the composition in its entirety in both silence and sound.

What better example than John Cage’s 4’33” for solo piano, a period of total performing silence, but joining the attention of performer and audience and the ambience of the hall into the creative wholeness of the live performance.

I carry that silence on the underground with me now, both as a creative expression and also in remembrance, and all the more so as I think of what has happened over the last weekend to the people of Paris.

Geraldine Allen

Young Composer Voices in Cambridge

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10th November saw An Evening of New Music curated by young composers Jay Richardson and Alex Woolf, under the aegis of Young Composers’ Network*. Jay is reading Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge and Alex is in his final year at St John’s College, Cambridge. Both already have impressive CVs which include performances with national orchestras and broadcasts on national radio.

So much for introductions – now down to the music. A programme for violin, oboe, horn, piano, dancer and percussion in various combinations presented work by 7 young composers from ages 15 to 20. It was meaty stuff with highly committed performances from all musicians.

Sorry to say the percussionist, Lucy Landymore, who was performing her own work was taken ill at the last minute and that part of the programme had to be abandoned.

The other young woman composer represented in the programme, Alexia Sloane, lost her sight at the age of 2, but nothing daunted, is a chorister, recorder player, flautist, pianist and composer, this last activity being completely internalised and only brought to the page by an amanuensis.

The points to make about this programme are first the fact that it took place, with professionalism, vigour, originality and candour – nothing inhibited about these creators.

The sweep of styles, language and emotion combined with the confidence and craft were all extremely impressive.

The cross-discipline content of poetry and dance brought added dimensions.

The sense of sharing, outreach and communication was palpable and generous.

The calibre of the audience lent further credence to the occasion with not a few Profs and Dons and a good number of other experienced and serious-minded attendees.

Yes, it was too long and yes the programme would have gained by including timings for each piece – in any new work, you need to know the arc of time and attention that you are following.

Entertaining – highly.
Challenging – satisfyingly.
Worthwhile – undoubtedly.

I know – I was there!
Sarah Rodgers

*Cambridge Young Composers’ Network was set up by Dr Frankie Williams to encourage young people to write music. Projects and opportunities are run in partnership with Aldeburgh Young Musicians, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge Youth Music, Hills Road Sixth Form College and the Faculties of Music and Education at the University of Cambridge. For more information, contact

passionately preparing

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Categories: live performance

Well, I’m still sharpening pencils and today I have managed to tie up a lot of loose ends which would otherwise niggle away while I am trying to get down to the heart of the matter. I actually managed to create the Finale file where the Impulse Edition of the new work will be published – that is a statement of intent! Tomorrow evening I’m going to lead a ‘Summer Sing’ with the choir who are commissioning the work – the Islington Choral Society. This is a great idea, (which could only be put into action by those completely passionate about their singing), whereby, those unfortunate souls left behind while others prance about en vacances, gather together under the batons of guest conductors to explore some new repertoire. This is particularly good from my point of view as it gives me a chance to get acquainted with the musicians for whom I am writing and their ways of working. I also get to hear something of their strengths and weaknesses, abhorrences and passions, too! I’m going to work with them on breathing, articulating, listening and feeling (well that will all get done in 30 minutes, won’t it!!) and then lay on them a little gem of a choral piece by Grieg which I heard performed a couple of months back by the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor – entirely captivating. It is Grieg’s setting of Ave Maris Stella, edited by my good mate, John Rutter.

Now I absolutely cannot write today without referring to an experience about which I feel intensely passionate – last night’s Prom concert. Anybody out there hear it? A chunky programme full of promise with Brahms, Elgar and Strauss (Richard) on offer. The band was the RPO, but I cannot believe what was done to them in rehearsal to produce such extraordinarily inappropriate interpretations. The playing was fine and heartfelt but to my ears, completely off the interpretative radar: Brahms, whimsical and over-sweetly full of vibrato and this was the St Anthony Variations for goodness sake – variations on a theme by Haydn. I hoped for better in the Enigma Variations, but the performance was so precious and placed and saccharine, I could barely listen; as well as the tempi being up the shoot – Nimrod was so slow I thought he’d fallen asleep – so much for the mighty hunter. Regrettably, so much of this had stuck in the craw to the extent that I couldn’t hang in there to listen to the Strauss Oboe Concerto – my loss I fear. I’ll make myself feel better by giving you a link to all the oboe music we have on tutti.

Sorry to moan, but really, Brahms and Elgar are Saxons, not Siamese (no offence to anyone oriental intended!) I’ll let you know how I get on with the Islington bunch, but not ’til Wednesday.

Sarah Rodgers

passionate about tchaikovsky

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Categories: live performance

Well, to be honest, I would never have thought I would put that as a title for my blog! but the good old BBC has followed up its Beethoven abd Bach extravaganzas with the Tchaikovsky experience. I got invited to an evening at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London to hear the wonderful BBC Singers perform a programme of unaccompanied sacred choral music by Tchaik. Well, actually it was a Tchaik sandwich with Stravinsky for the filling – a rather extraordinary but not unappealing juxtaposition. The cathedral is an unremarkable building but has a more than remarkable impact – it makes you want to be quiet. (I remember experiencing that in the Kremlin on entering the church with the Rubalov icons floor to ceiling – that actually just silenced you without and within!) The BBC Singers did a magnificent job although their very beautiful balance didn’t always give that flavour of the basses underpinning not only the music, but the whole wide world! Nonetheless, it was profound – not a word one can use easily these days. I rushed back to tutti to see what Tchaikovsky offerings we have. In sheet music there is some interesting stuff, especially for trumpet, and as for CDs, one rather special recording of Tchaikovsky works for piano duet, including Romeo and Juliet transcribed by Nadezhda Purgold (wife of Rimsky-Korsakov). How’s that for original, but then you wouldn’t expect anything else from tutti. Incidentally there is a new year’s sale at tutti at the moment with 20% off everything. Yes, I said a SALE.

Cheers Tchaikovsky!

Sarah Rodgers

Apologies, promises and passions in 2007

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Duh! Where did all that time go? I know the essence of blogging is that it is regular and continuous in order to keep a thread of ideas and information but in the oh so busy world of a freelance composer and musical entrepreneur gee is that a challenge! Anyway, I’m back after an interval of – I dare hardly admit to it – 2 months. BUT, a fantastic amount of passionate stuff has taken place in that time. First there was the British Composer Awards. I have been spearheading these Awards on behalf of the British Academy of Composer & Songwriters for four years now and they have had a tremendous impact on the classical composing community here in the UK. The Awards give recognition to composers in just about every area of contemporary composition and because we are partnered by BBC Radio 3, there are all sorts of added benefits such as a broadcast festival of the nominated works and performances by the excellent BBC ensembles – Symphony Orchetra, Concert Orchestra, Singers. It’s a really great celebration! After that it was the much lower profile but just as passionately important matter of the church carol service – a chorus of 40 and an orchestra of 20. Well, when I say orchestra, that includes penny whistle and three trumpets, but it’s another great jamboree. I think the orchestra was saved this year by the tutti programmer, Olly, who led with his violin! And now we have turned 2007, there is a whole new year of passionate music matters starting to happen. I have the first of three commissions to start work on and from the end of the week, we will be running a new year sale on tutti with 20% off EVERYTHING! So check that out. In a couple of weeks there will also be clarinet tips on tutti, written by our resident expert and tutti team member Geraldine. Definitely not to be missed – so, I’ll keep you posted! That’s a promise!

Sarah Rodgers

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