Those still savouring the sounds of Jeff Parker’s The New Breed and Slight Freedom will want to seriously consider investing in the reissue of The Relatives, the guitarist’s genre-busting album from 2005. Reissued at part of the Thrill Jockey label’s 25th anniversary this year, the record makes its welcome return to vinyl for the first time in over a decade and finds Parker accompanied by percussionist Chad Taylor, bassist Chris Lopes and pianist Sam Barsheshet.
– Spencer Grady
For more details visit www.thrilljockey.com
Plenty of pianists play Beethoven, but it’s rare to find one who does so with the insight, imagination and intelligence of Igor Levit. The Russian-German pianist made his BBC Proms debut five years ago, and chose late Beethoven sonatas for his staggering debut disc. It should be a real treat to hear him join the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner for Beethoven’s Third Concerto, in C minor. Add to that John Adams’s pulsating and luminous choral-orchestral Harmonium – the first of several pieces to mark the US composer’s 70th Birthday – and a premiere by Tom Coult, and this looks set to be a memorable First Night.
The ever-inventive Aurora Orchestra girds its loins to perform Beethoven’s politically charged Eroica Symphony from memory, with the hope that the feat will result in a fresher, more involved performance. It’s preceded by Richard Strauss’s 1945 Metamorphosen, in which the German composer expresses his grief for his broken homeland and, by quoting from the Eroica, pays homage to its musical golden age. But what sets this concert apart is what lies between – in the company of Radio 3’s Tom Service, the Aurora conductor Nicholas Collon will be breaking down Beethoven’s masterpiece for the audience, with live excerpts to illustrate their points. Listen and learn, as they say.
It’s always worth making a space in your diary for the traditional annual Proms performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, the composer’s brilliant final symphony which takes the listener on a journey from elemental chaos to uplifting joy. This year it’s paired with a work that also celebrates humanity, in particular the ‘spiritual, moral and artistic patrimony’ of Europe. James MacMillan’s 2015 A European Requiem sets Latin texts and takes its inspiration from the 19th-century Requiem tradition. Doing the honours for both pieces will be the CBSO Chorus, and the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Xian Zhang.
Here’s a rare chance to hear Prokofiev’s disquieting cantata Seven, They Are Seven. Composed in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution itself (see p31), the work was based on an ancient Mesopotamian text that describes seven demonic gods who have power over the elements and is believed to have been intended by Prokofiev as an allegory for the chaos of dramatic regime change. Divine wrath, meanwhile, also crashes down on Mesopotamia in Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Under its vibrant chief conductor Kirill Karabits, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – joined here by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain – will doubtless lead the riot with typical gusto.
Known and admired for its exploration and expansion of music’s boundaries, the six-piece Bang on a Can All-Stars has been invited to celebrate its 30th anniversary in a Late Night Prom that features music by the ensemble’s three composer-directors, Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe – Gordon’s Big Space will, in fact, be a world premiere. This BBC Prom is not solely about the All-Stars, however. Joining them for the evening will be the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble and conductor Rumon Gamba, while works by composers Philip Glass – who celebrates his 80th birthday this year – and Louis Andriessen round off the occasion.
JS Bach’s Orgelbüchlein is a collection of 46 brief chorale preludes for organ, each one written for a specific liturgical feast. However, for reasons not entirely clear, Bach left it incomplete, falling way short of his intended target of 164 pieces. Cue organist William Whitehead, who has been busy over the past few years plugging the 118 gaps with newly composed pieces by Roderick Williams, Gabriel Jackson, David Briggs, Eriks Esenvalds, Judith Bingham and more besides. In one of three Proms in a day celebrating the Reformation, Whitehead himself and fellow organist Robert Quinney will premiere three of the more recent commissions, by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Jonathan Dove and Daniel Saleeb.
A look through this year’s Proms jazz highlights reveals that, as well as the centenary celebration of Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, there’s a tribute to one of the fiercest jazz talents of all time, Charles Mingus. A huge success at last year’s Proms, conductor Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest return to explore Mingus’s greatest compositions, not least the iconic 1959 album Mingus Ah Um. As a bandleader, Mingus drew on his classical training as a double-bassist, harnessing the energy of big band-era swing with the riotous spontaneity of Gospel. Buckley is joined by saxist Shabaka Hutchings.
As the BBC Proms season enters its last couple of weeks is when big-name orchestras from abroad are traditionally seen filing into the Royal Albert Hall artists’ entrance. This year, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – which, coincidentally, was founded in the same year as the Proms themselves – enjoys that privilege for the first time in their 122-year histories. For the occasion, the ensemble and its music director Louis Langrée are bringing a couple of works from across the pond, namely Bernstein’s On the Waterfront symphonic suite and Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, which features the speeches of a US presidential great. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth rounds off this long overdue Proms debut.
The UK’s first black and minority ethnic orchestra, Chineke! has been making waves in performances across the UK, and is the youngest ever ensemble to be invited to the BBC Proms. Its programme includes a world premiere of The Spark Catchers by rising star Hannah Kendall, based on a poem by Lemn Sissay, and Lyric for Strings by George Walker, whose 1996 work Lilacs made him the first African-American composer to win a Pulizter Prize. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (BBC Young Musician 2016) also makes his Proms debut in works by Dvoπák and Popper.
Featuring Mahler’s Sixth Symphony – complete with hammer blow – in one, and pianist Emanuel Ax in another, one might observe that there is something notably striking about the Vienna Philharmonic’s two Proms. Puns aside, these two concerts at the end of the season will be worth the wait. The Mahlerian first will be conducted by Daniel Harding, while the second, in which Ax will be performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14, will be under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. Either side of the Mozart will be Brahms’s Variations on the St Anthony Chorale and the fizzing, manic energy of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. What better way to tee up the following day’s Last Night of the Proms?
Latitude is the pioneering younger sibling of mainstream festivals Reading and Leeds. It stands out from the rest of the Festival Republic family – former operators of mud-slick Glastonbury – for its inventive programming, which, along with the usual rock and pop fare, includes opera, poetry, ballet, theatre, literature and cabaret.
Its line-up is integrated into beautiful Suffolk countryside: at this year's event (13-16 July), festival punters could enjoy Opera North's immersive woodland installation based on Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, sit among giant lilacs and literally punt across the lake. Katherine Jenkins plumped for the latter as she made her entrance on the waterfront stage for the key Sunday lunchtime slot.
Clutching a jewel-encrusted microphone and waving to the crowds gathered on both sides of the banks – and the adjoining bridge – the mezzo-soprano sung Cohen's Hallelujah as she was helped aboard the floating construction. It was, as she explained, the first time that she had performed at this type of event, and she admitted the experience was 'more nerve-wracking than singing at the Royal Albert Hall'. But the crowd adored her and her selection of arias and 'songs sung in a classical style'.
Her pianist, Jane Samuel, and the Masquerade String Quartet were all heavily amplified in order to cope with the outside setting. Despite this, a strand of music from a stage in another field would occasionally filter through, giving the music an Ivesian feel. Habanera from Carmen was rapturously received, as was World in Union, the theme song from the Rugby World Cup that features the theme from Jupiter, taken from Holst's The Planets.
This was not a traditional song recital, and must not be judged as such. Perhaps the amplification did mar the tonal quality, and the likes of You'll Never Walk Alone from Carousel (recently performed by Jenkins with Alfie Boe at the Coliseum) is not to everyone's taste. However, like former waterfront stage headliners Lang Lang and pianist James Rhodes, Jenkins succeeded in bringing a taster of classical music – a new experience for many listeners – to a huge number of people (Latitude hosted over 40,000 people this year).
Elsewhere, the Royal Opera House and the V&A previewed their upcoming exhibition Passion, Power and Politics (V&A: 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018), which explores seven premieres in seven European cities over 400 years. Visitors were invited to sample a recording of Verdi's Nabucco while viewing an image of the inside of the Royal Opera House, giving the impression that we were ensconced on stage.
Composer Vicky Stone amused and impressed with her Concerto for comedian and orchestra, an action-packed piece that tells the story of a troubled couple whose purchase of a dishwasher signals their unraveling. The show is peppered with viola jokes, culminating in the viola section walking off stage. They return, and the viola becomes a central symbol in the outer narrative, saving the protagonists from despair. Other 'in' jokes include a scheduled 'audience cough' in between movements and a frowning disapproval for latecomers and those who applaud. The parody served as a reminder of our need to dismantle certain elements within our traditional concert etiquette to make classical music welcoming to newcomers – something that Latitude is clearly committed to.
Gene Loves Jezebel Dancing Underwater (CD) Westworld Recordings Well, isn’t this a surprise? Not the fact that Gene Loves Jezebel’s first full album since 1999’s VII is as good as you ever hoped it would be, back in their glittery-glammy-goth …
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Martin Longley explores the abundance of global music on offer at the Montréal Jazz Festival
Like many jazz festivals, Montréal has ample room to present other musical forms, so it’s easy to experience a complete global music orientated schedule, if so desired. Most of these choices are available freely on the Canadian city’s multiple open-air stages, with abundant alternatives made possible via the sheer overload of what is famed as the world’s biggest jazz festival. The entire arts complex part of the city is completely overrun with indoor, ticketed gigs and freebie outdoor shows, creating a temporary community of thousands.
Feisty female singers were to the fore. Even in this three-day slice of the 11-day feast (July 2-4), it was possible to catch Betty Bonifassi, Buika (pictured above), A-WA and Flavia Coelho, all delivering tasty sets. The latter Rio singer/guitarist doesn’t sound massively Brazilian, spending most of her set spouting tongue-twisting ragga, dancehall and heavy dub numbers, with the occasional frothy French chanson dribbled into the cocktail. Coelho’s keyboardist and drummer helped to create a full and heavy reggae weight, the latter stepping forward during the encore to voice rugged and deep in the Prince Far I fashion. Coelho is a dynamo – singing, dancing, spouting Afro-Brazilian semi-acoustic guitar licks and transforming into a ragga gyrator, sometimes all in the space of a single number.
Buika played a ticketed show in the Place des Arts, subtly bathed in a deep crimson lightshow glow, which was presumably a deliberate aid to enhance the sultry atmosphere. Unfortunately, her audience were more inclined than most to bathe themselves in a cellphone glow, shooting and snapping incessantly, and working directly against the mood-flow. Regardless, this Spanish singer’s deep-toned power was sufficient to grasp and hold our attention, as she skirted away from her flamenco roots into more generalised song-forms. It was actually the more flamenco soaked
parts of Buika’s set which held the most power, where her band appeared to be most natural in their negotiations.
A-WA are a trio of Tel Aviv sisters with Yemenite roots, melding traditional vocal harmonies with quirky electro-pop, and progressing towards a psychedelic rock climax. Their open air set magnetised a varied crowd, many of whom appeared to be discovering these sounds for the first time. All were most emphatically converted.
The main outdoor TD stage is right next to the Place des Arts, and every night it features a pair of crowd-magnet sets, with the same act appearing at 9pm and 11pm. Brazilian combo Bixiga 70 have a samba funk core, but are just as likely to rove into Afrobeat or reggae territory, with three horns, two percussionists, drums, bass, keys and a pair of guitarists. They’re squarely directed at the festival circuit, but this makes them prone to an overload of crowd-goading tactics. One of the most appealing sequences was a percussion work-out, with djembe and cowbell, guitar and cheese-grater joining later, and the horns riffing back into the fray. Each band member gets a chance in the spotlight as the set progresses, with a particularly impressive trombone blast-off being a stand-out.
Adding to the Latin presence, Roberto Fonseca played with an added horn section, and the Peruvian ensemble Bareto started out on the smaller Hyundai outdoor stage with a slightly cheesy approach. Their tunes steadily toughened up, and their leading man drew the audience closer with some witty banter, so there was a markedly altered vibration by set’s end.
The Heineken stage (this is the fest’s beery overlord, so craft brews are not much in evidence) is the home for rootsy Americana, whether country, rockabilly, blues or rock’n’roll. The French/Québécois Youngstown trio inhabit most of those styles, but can mainly be described as countrybilly, with a high quavering singer operating on the punky Dolly Parton front. Local blues harmonica man Guy Bélanger also had a repeated midnight slot on this stage, inflating the crowd with bonus energy following their full days of music cramming.
On the actual jazz front, the ‘discovery’ of the festival was trumpeter Hichem Khalfa, residing locally, but born in France. His soloing has a pronounced Middle Eastern attack, with crisp, staccato phrases dodging around the reverberant electro-washes of his keyboardist, creating a highly effective sonic contrast. An Arabic modality scampers above tough fusion precision. The jazz purists could have their own hardcore experience by choosing different shows, and likewise with the frothy pop kids, but one of the pleasures of this Montréal festival is that the attendee
can plot completely alternative pathways through the dense number of potential entertainments.