Miscellany – Tippett, Maier, Kuusisto, Beamish

The sun has come out in the south of England, just in time for the Easter weekend. While temperatures climb, Britain basks in the delay of its Brexit nightmare (long may it last!), and the newly-announced 2019 Proms season foretells warm musical nights to come. But Brexit’s woes have been replaced by a new focus on our climate crisis (thank you Extinction Rebellion), and if that leaves you feeling conflicted about the summery weather, you may share my mixed feelings about the Proms too. My response to the new season – in which I ask what the BBC thinks the whole thing is for – seems to have struck a chord with a few people.

A similarly hot topic in the music world right now is Michael Tippett, thanks to Oliver Soden’s new biography, published to wide acclaim and a surprising level of buzz for a book about a composer. This is reassuring, and Soden took to Twitter to thank the agent and publisher that gambled on him, when some fifty others had determined that classical music wasn’t a sell outside of its biggest names. And as it happens, I found myself at the Barbican this week to hear Tippett’s The Rose Lake performed by the BBCSO and Andrew Davis. This late work was also programmed by Rattle and the LSO last year, and certainly seems ripe for revival: a fascinating and mysterious score, it evokes the play of light on a pink-tinged body of water in Senegal. It boasts an impressive percussion section (including 36 rototoms!) and some haunting passages for unison strings. You can listen to it here.

Also new out this week is the latest Notes On Notes podcast, featuring Dr. Leah Broad and my (very much un-doctored) self. This time we discuss Amanda Maier – a highly gifted Swedish violinist and composer whose promising life was cut tragically short. Brave listeners will be treated to the sound of me reading some astonishingly sexist 19th-century reviews of her work! It’s early days on the podcast, but we’re both enjoying the experience, and any feedback is gratefully received. For our next episode, we recently went to ENO to see Jack The Ripper: The Women Of Whitechapel, so watch this space for our thoughts on it. (Even better, follow the podcast on Twitter or subscribe on iTunes).

Busy woman that she is, Leah has also been tweeting a fifty concertos thread, and it has introduced me (and various incredulous others) to this delightfully bonkers piece by Germaine Taillefaire, uploaded to YouTube from an obsolete recording. Among the other gems on that platform, there are new additions to the LSO’s Soundhub Showcase series. I particularly enjoyed Robyn Haigh’s fun ‘Aesop’, which features recorders aplenty (you may also spot a sneaky reference to a famous chorale). Meanwhile over in the Netherlands, Nachtmuziek by the Mathilde Wantenaar is an impressive new piece for strings, a single-movement ode to Béla Bartók with a real nocturnal intensity.

If you’ve ever wished you could pause an opera for a toilet break? Or to grab a bag of Mini Cheddars? If so, then OperaVision is for you! I highly recommend their video of a new Finnish opera, Ice by Jaakko Kuusisto and Juhani Koivisto. It’s a stage adaptation of a 2012 novel, in which a young Finnish pastor and his family move to a remote island community, who are connected by sea ice every winter in a temporary (and treacherous) crossing. The score is full of atmosphere and suspense, reminiscent at times of Kuusisto’s fellow Finn Rautavaara, and the story is touching, with some appealingly gothic moments featuring ethereal sea spirits. Ice is available for six months – watch it now before sea ice becomes a thing of the past. 

(On a similar theme, Stuart MacRae’s arctic chiller Anthropocene – his latest collaboration with librettist Louise Welshwill be appearing on OperaVision in May. I’m particularly looking forward to this, as I very much enjoyed their previous venture The Devil Inside.) 

Finally, for no apparent reason, I’ve been exploring Sally Beamish’s two viola concertos this week (who else can claim multiple viola concertos? There’s a question for you). But as it happens, the first has a Holy Week tie-in – it’s inspired by the denials of Peter. I am always intrigued by how composers use the viola’s middling timbre when it’s brought out from its normal supporting role – one of my first ever classical CD purchases was Telemann’s lovely viola concerto in G. But, unsurprisingly given the dramatic implications of the Biblical story, Beamish’s approach is a much more taught and angular affair. Listen to no.1 here

Wherever you are, I hope you have a Happy Easter!