It’s been 13 years since the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge last visited Australia and a full City Recital Hall Angel Place greeted the singers’ arrival on stage with thunderous applause. Music Director Stephen Cleobury noted that when he first toured Australia for Musica Viva in 1983 no one else on the stage was alive; equally, some of the boy choristers were not born the last time I saw the choir perform in Sydney in 2001. Yet here they were singing some of the most challenging choral repertoire ever written as they though were part of either of those previous tours!
And challenging repertoire it was, mostly for the Choir but also for the audience as many of the works are not often heard outside the king’s College Chapel. The first half’s mix of pieces by the some of the great composers of Renaissance and Baroque music saw the Choir singing a number of different compositional styles in quick succession. I especially enjoyed their interpretations of English composers Thomas Tallis’ Suscipe quaeso, Domine (1575) and Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei (c.1680) by Henry Purcell as well as Italian Claudio Monteverdi’s Adoramus te, Christe (c1620); each of these works saw the four sections of the Choir brilliantly realising the challenges of their individual parts as well as creating a rich and varied ensemble sound. Special mention must be made of tenor and bass soloists in the Purcell, Joel Williams and Henry Hawkesworth.
The second half featured, for me, the evening’s standout performances and was incredibly rewarding listening overall. Two pieces by Charles Stanford for a single soprano line accompanied by piano framed the late Romantic masterpieces by Charles Parry. The Choir’s performance of Parry’s very moving seven-part Lord, let me know mine end from Songs of Farewell (c1916-1918) was virtuosic and brilliantly shaped, highlighting both the high quality of the singers as well as Stephen’s great experience in this repertoire.
The opportunity to hear together the three Australian carols commissioned by the Choir from Peter Sculthorpe, Brett Dean and Carl Vine for their Nine Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service is rare and I’m glad Stephen agreed with our suggestion to perform them. Each work is very different to the other yet formed a very satisfying set, as well as being a terrific way to lead into the concert’s closing work, Benjamin Britten’s masterful Hymn to Saint Cecilia (1942). I have always loved this work, as both audience member and chorister ̶ though it does instil fear in me being the latter due to its significant demands. I thought the Choir’s performance was superb, with every member of the Choir giving 150% including the youngest boy sopranos. The soft singing was especially beautiful and to hear it in Angel Place’s warm acoustic a very special experience.
Britten’s work is in praise of the patron saint of music, and it seemed a fitting close to a concert that celebrated the beauty of the voice and the richness of the choral music tradition. On this hearing, the 2014 iteration of the Choir seems a very special one to me, and the sustained applause at the end of the concert by 1,200 others seemed to indicate that everyone else was of the same opinion.
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The start of the 19th century was an extraordinarily prolific period in Western music. Beethoven was reaching his productive peak while, in the background, Schubert was discovering ever deeper substance within the language of diatonic harmony. Schumann and Brahms quickly followed Schubert’s path, leading to the primacy of the Romantic impulse in European music.
This epoch resonates profoundly with celebrated British pianist Imogen Cooper, who has compiled a brilliant program exploring these compositional connections for this, her first, recital tour of Australia. Although widely acclaimed as a concerto soloist and chamber musician, she is probably most renowned for her recordings of solo piano music by Schubert and Schumann, making this tour an opportunity, unique in this country, to see this singularly talented performer in her favourite guise.
Schumann’s charming Novellette (op 21 no 2) joins his brilliant Davidsbündlertänze as an intense homage to that composer filling the first half. The second half opens with a musical oddity: Brahms’ arrangement for solo piano of the Theme and Variations from his own first string sextet. Brahms created this especially for the masterful pianist Clara Schumann, who was deeply enamoured of the sextet, so filling out the circle that joins these three composers in historical unity. Schubert’s massive B flat major sonata brings the concert to a fitting close.
For more information on Imogen Cooper, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/cooper
In the final episode of Chamber Music & Me Season Two, mother and daughter, Vanessa and Lena Olofsson, talk about the role chamber music plays in their family. Vanessa, whose mother was a founding member of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, has spent her whole life around music. Similarly, her daughter, Leni, a violinist and student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, has also spent her life surrounded by music. In this candid and emotionally moving video, mother and daughter talk music, love, family, death, and saying goodbye.
Watch all the episode of Chamber Music & Me Season Two at; musicaviva.com.au/chambermusicandme
Clara Schumann was so fond of Brahms’ string sextet that he made her a piano arrangement. Imogen Cooper had to battle her own sense of trepidation before she decided it would be permissible to tackle the piano transcription.
“Because I adore the string sextet, I was in two minds about taking it up,” she explains. “But the piece is so beautiful that it the end I couldn’t resist.”
And there the trepidation ended. Cooper compared Brahms’ piano reduction with his sextet and made a few improvements of her own.
“Strangely, Brahms simplified one or two things; he took out some absolutely salient harmonies or chord spacings. I can’t believe it was to protect Clara in any way, because she was a fabulous pianist. Maybe he just did it in a hurry. Anyway, I put them back; I hope he doesn’t mind. I think my version sounds better, if I may say so.”
Still, Cooper retained enough anxiety about her right to perform the piece that she was flooded with relief when a member of the Belcea Quartet voiced his approval.
“He said he didn’t miss the strings at all. I thought that was the greatest possible compliment!”
Schubert’s final piano sonata presents a different set of challenges.
“The piece stands out for its sheer lyricism,” says Cooper. “What’s interesting is that he wrote it at exactly the same time as his C minor sonata, which is so full of terror. But I don’t think the music of that time was valedictory at all. I don’t think he could have known that he was going to die.”
Though the composer had syphilis, says Cooper, it was still in its second stage; it was typhoid fever which did for him. His brother Ferdinand, in a misguided attempt to help him, offered him a place in his unfinished Vienna house, which was damp and close to canal which carried the city’s effluent.
“There is a touching story that when his brother visited him, he said, ‘Brother, what is wrong with me?’ He really didn’t know. And ten days later, he was dead.”
Not that death in Vienna, then or ever, seems quite as bad as death in most places.
“Death was not seen in the same unspeakable way as we see it now,” Cooper agrees. “I guess the whole idea of it was much more integrated into the everyday than it is now. And in Vienna, it was almost like a friend who comes and takes your hand. Still, it can’t have been the nicest way to die. Poor old Schubert.”
Also on Cooper’s Australian tour programme is Schumann’s “Davidsbünder”, a set of 18 pieces in which his two alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius (respectively the extrovert and the introvert) are represented in turn. The two characters, whom Schumann also used in correspondence to explain his changing moods, are sometimes cited as evidence that the composer suffered from bipolar disorder, or manic depression.
“Schumann? Bipolar?” Cooper responds. “I wouldn’t like to put my hand in the fire on that one. He was definitely syphilitic, and he did get to the tertiary stages of the disease, which would have contributed to his madness at the end. But like Schubert, he had the seeds not only of darkness but also of tremendous swings. I think he was cyclothymic – he generally felt better in summer than he did in winter.
“I think a lot of it was tied up, also, with his composition. He would be completely miles away when he was composing. And then he would be full of righteous indignation, thinking that the world was against him and that he would never be a success; but you know, most artists have a bit of that, frankly.”
Surprisingly, this will be Cooper’s first tour for Musica Viva, though she is a familiar figure on Australian stages because of the many performances with and for Australian orchestras. Asked just how often she has been Down Under, Cooper responds with perplexity.
“I’m a woman. I don’t think that way. Men think this way. It’s a perfectly fair question, but I don’t know the answer.”
Chickens, apparently, cannot count further than one; their mathematical capacities allow them to perceive either one or more than one.
“Oh no, how nice! Right, I’m a chicken. Yes, it’s a little bit like that.”
The lifestyle of a touring pianist, she says, is brutal in the extreme; her current coping tactic is to retire to a stone garden in the French countryside for several working weeks at a stretch.
“It’s a completely dysfunctional life. It’s monstrous. It eats up all your time unless you find a way to get around it.
“My workload has actually increased over the past 13 or 14 years. And you reach an age where you have to find a strategy.” An Oxford professorship and additional writing obligations have further added to her commitments.
“You’ve got to live life. I mean, playing music is about life. It’s about expressing all the emotions that one can possibly live. How can you do that if you’re living in a tunnel, running for a plane the moment you’re off the platform? That’s not a life. You need space and reflection and dream time. You need to be able to stop and be still, to read and really listen. Sometimes the best way to hear a score is just to sit in your garden or on a beach somewhere.”
For Cooper, a nine-concert tour of Australia is both a novelty and a challenge.
“I’m very excited about it, I must say. The older I get the more I want to try new experiences, things that I haven’t done before. In this profession you have to form your own parameters, but you also have to be prepared to change them sometimes.”
Interview by Shirley Apthorp
“Music is for all, and everybody has the ability to access the music no matter what it is, when it was written, or in what context, and I think it should be like that.”
Melbourne composer, Andrew Aronowicz, features in the new episode of Chamber Music & Me Season Two. Andrew was introduced to classical music at the age of ten, and has enjoyed listening and performing it ever since. When we spoke to Andrew, he was rehearing to perform Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater”, a piece of music for which he has a great affection.
For more information on Chamber Music & Me, and to watch all the episodes, please visit; musicaviva.com.au/chambermusicandme
Winners of the 2011 Musica Viva Chamber Music Competition, the Streeton Trio, will perform Haydn, Kats-Chernin, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Brahms on Friday, July 25, 8pm at the Coffs Harbour Education Campus, Lecture Theatre D.
“Each of the works features a mythical concept or other-worldly character; from Haydn’s bubbly, rustic Gypsy trio, to the floating, pretty Butterflying by Elena Kats-Chernin. Our program will also include the masterful and powerful Ghost trio by Beethoven, Rachmaninov’s deeply expressive Élégiaque Trio no.1, and will end with the epic voyage of Brahms’ C major trio.” Violinist Emma Jardine told The Coffs Coast Advertiser.
Read the full story in The Coffs Coast Advocate here; http://bit.ly/1smKDl2
For more information on Musica Viva’s Regional Concerts, and to book your tickets, please visit; http://www.musicaviva.com.au/whatson/regional-concerts
Renowned pianist, Simon Tedeschi, will tour Cooma, Dubbo, Mudgee, Cooma, Young and Coffs Harbour, the Cooma-Monaro Express reports.
“He has performed for the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, the Dalai Lama, George W Bush, Vladimir Putin and Hu Jin Tao – now Cooma locals have the chance to catch concert pianist Simon Tedeschi in a special concert on Friday July 25 presented by Snowy Monaro Arts Council in association with Musica Viva Australia.”
Read the full story at Cooma-Monaro Express here; http://bit.ly/1m95wIf
For more information on Simon Tedeschi’s regional tour, and to book your tickets, please visit; http://www.musicaviva.com.au/whatson/regional-concerts