April 2009 Preview

Highlights of the coming month in the Classical and Opera worlds

30 March 2009

ROHAs we head into April, the focus is on new announcements for London's opera lovers.

The next four weeks bring about the declaration of what English National Opera (2 April) and the Royal Opera (22 April) will perform during the 2009-10 season, as well as the Proms (8 April).

ENO's new season is expected to include new productions of Tosca and Turandot with Amanda Echalaz, while it's long been rumoured that Placido Domingo will return to the ROH in Handel's Tamerlano and Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. It's also safe to assume that the Proms will include a salute to the four anniversary composers – Handel, Purcell, Mendelssohn and Haydn – following the Edinburgh Festival's focus, announced this past week. It will be interesting to see, though, whether the obvious problem with this year's Ed Fest – namely, that there are much fewer foreign orchestras, soloists and opera companies able to visit this year – will also apply to the opera companies and the Proms, or whether they're able to avoid too much of a 'Credit Crunch' season.

Meanwhile, there's plenty to choose from during April, whether it's the return of Shostakovich's Paradise Moscow to Opera North, Il trovatore to the ROH or ENO's visit to the Young Vic for a modern retelling of Dido and Aeneas. For a different experience, why not pop into the Foundling Museum on Brunswick Square, where a major exhibition currently celebrates Handel the Philanthropist, or perhaps visit the Victoria and Albert Museum's new Theatre and Performance galleries. Also of interest is the world premiere of Phil Grabsky's new film, In Search of Beethoven, which offers an intriguing new look at a familiar subject. Our regular writers give a list of their alternative recommendations below.

By Dominic McHugh, Editor

Hugo Shirley, Deputy Editor

There's no shortage of excitement surrounding Gustavo Dudamel and his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, and their two main concerts at the Royal Festival Hall are likely to be a highlight in April (the programmes include Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra on 14 April and the Rite of Spring on 18 April). The main concerts themselves have been sold out for months, but there is a whole array of associated concerts and events, including symposia on El Sistema, and a concert by the UK's own National Youth Orchestra on 19 April. Sticking with the youthful theme, the London International Piano Competition will be taking place for the seventh time between 18 and 28 April. Stage one is at the RAM's Duke's Hall, stage two in the Purcell Room, stage three at the QEH and the final three contestants will battle it out for the top prize to the accompaniment of the the LPO at the Festival Hall on 28 April.

Over at the Barbican, Hilary Hahn will be giving what looks like one of the more interesting of this season's Celebrity Recitals, with a programme intriguingly built around sonatas by Ysayë and Ives (1 April). Lang Lang also makes several appearances at the Barbican this month, featuring in concertos with the LSO and giving a solo recital built around Schubert's great A Major Sonata D.959 (26 April). It's not repertoire one readily associates with the Chinese superstar and as such will be an interesting test of his musicianship.

Stephen Graham, Contemporary Music Editor

Londoners have an extremely busy month of music ahead of them in April. At King's Place the record label NMC celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a series of concerts spread over the first four days of the month. These concerts will feature performers such as Iain Burnside, Lucy Wakeford, Claire Booth, and Benjamin Hulett (amongst many others) performing some of the bespoke songs commissioned for the anniversary from the likes of Harrison Birtwistle, Gerald Barry, Tansy Davies, and Jonathan Harvey. The same venue continues to run its striking This is Tuesday series of new music concerts, with the Graham Fitkin curated evening (April 21) and the visit of the always excellent Elision Ensemble (April 28) promising particular excitement.

The Barbican plays host to a staggering range of artists in April. Orchestra Baobab's date has already sold out, but there are plenty of other interesting world and Latin tinged events throughout the month (including a visit from Peret on the 18th). The Beyond the Wall festival continues, this month showcasing Tan Dun's Internet Symphony on the 21st, just one of two Lang Lang appearances during April at the Barbican (the other takes place the previous day). A night of underground music from Beijing, including the young duo White, and also FM3, the creators of the famous Buddha drone device that is currently popular, takes place at LSO St. Luke's on 26 April.

The Southbank Centre hosts a similarly busy month. The impressive Music of Today series of short concerts featuring the work of a single composer played by members of the Philharmonia before an evening concert continues on 7 April, with music by Hans Abrahamsen. The Ether festival continues until 24 April, with Brian Eno and Jon Hassell in conversation on 9 April, David Byrne playing two date on 12 and 13 April, and Fennesz playing on 21 April. The festival draws to a close with a performance from Squarepusher, and with the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment joining forces to perform Heiner Goebbel's theatrical portrait of domestic life during World War Two, Songs of Wars I Have Seen. The composer will give a pre-concert talk. Also, incidentally, the performance artist Kan Mikami plays a two night residency at Café Oto, beginning 31 March, and concluding on April Fool's night, that really shouldn't be missed.

Agnes Kory, Co-Founder

I am very much looking forward to my visits to the Budapest Opera House where I will attend five performances in six days. I could have attended seven productions (indeed, eight performances) during the same six-day period but I decided to leave out Don Giovanni and Turandot. 
My first attendance is on 31st March but - as it is of huge significance - I am taking the liberty of mentioning it in our April pre-view. This will be the performance of Haydn's opera L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (1791), an opera seria in four acts composed in London to a libretto by Badini and here in Budapest conducted by Adam Fischer, the music director of the Budapest Opera House. My fifth attendance (6 April) will be at Parsifal where - in her Hungarian debut - Irmgard Vilsmaier will sing Kundry. Having recently heard her in the role of Gertrud (Hansel and Gretel, Royal Opera House), I am very much looking forward to this performance.
Between Fischer's Haydn and Parsifal, I will be at Tannhauser, Barber of Seville and at The Emperor's New Dress (a charming opera for children - a great favourite of mine in my childhood - by Gyorgy Ranki). 

I will report about my Budapest opera week on my return to London and to MusicalCriticism.com.

Marina Romani, News Editor

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra, a joint project between the London Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Hall, has finally become a reality. After months of video auditions and online masterclasses, the ninety musicians who will participate to the performance of Tan Dun's Internet Symphony No. 1 'Eroica' have been announced on 2 March. In April, the participants will attend a summit in New York in order to rehearse Dun's work, especially composed for this occasion. The final concert is programmed on 15 April at Carnegie Hall, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Music Director, New World Symphony Founder and Artistic Director, and London Symphony Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor.

For me, the originality of this project is unquestionable. And considering the artistic support by some of the most important musical institutions in the world, together with the performers' talent, there is hope for this to be a memorable event. So, if you are in New York in April, don't miss the chance to attend the live performance of the first online collaborative orchestra.

For those in London, instead, one of the operatic highlights of the month is definitely Il Trovatore at the Opera House. Six performances, conducted by Carlo Rizzi, will run from 13 April to 2 May. This ROH version of Verdi's opera is particularly interesting, being a revival of the 2002 powerful production directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Renowned film designer Dante Ferretti created the set designs. His interpretation, together with Moshinsky's direction, adds an epic level to a story driven by extreme passions. A stellar cast complete what promises to be a memorable experience. In fact, this Trovatore features Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna, Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora, and Malgorzata Walewska as Azucena. The role of Manrico will be performed alternatively by Walter Fraccaro and Roberto Alagna.

In addition, Covent Garden offers an entertaining opportunity for those who fancy taking on a role in Verdi's opera. This will be possible on 29 April at 6 pm, when Covent Garden sets up a Trovatore Singalong. This will be an informative and fun vocal session led by Royal Opera Chorus Assistant Director Stephen Westrop. Together with the audience, members of the Royal Opera Chorus will participate. This event will take place at Clore Studio at the Royal Opera.

Ed Breen

This month my attention will be focused on Holy Week and all the musical activity that it brings. Following on from a moving Bach St John Passion with Hereford Cathedral Choir last year I am hoping to attend their performance of the St Matthew Passion on 7 April this year. It is important to leave the confines of London and to reconnect with the cathedral choirs and choral societies of our country from time-to-time because this is where some of the really exciting music making happens and where new careers are inspired and forged. Hereford Cathedral choir have a particularly strong oratorio tradition and a trip to this beautiful part of the country is always worthwhile. On 8 April I notice that The Tallis Scholars present a Lenten programme at St George's, Bristol including Gallus' St John Passion and Byrd's outstandingly beautiful Ne Irascaris.

For a bigger St Matthew Passion one might consider the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig/Chailly at the Barbican on the 5th. Then the Hilliard Ensemble appear with the Chilingirian Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on the 8th to perform Gesualdo's Responsoria in Parasceve interspersed with Haydn's Seven Last Words from the Cross, and on Maundy Thursday Mark Padmore (evangelist) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will be performing Bach's St John Passion at the Southbank centre.

After Easter I am mostly looking forward to After Dido at ENO which is Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in a new film and theatre piece by Katie Mitchell and conduced by Christian Curnyn.

Delia Casadei

If you take the advent of Spring less as a romanticized gentle awakening and more as an orgiastic, even dangerous celebration of life and death, then Ligeti's 1978 opera Le Grand Macabre is the perfect spring-time opera. And so must have thought the devisers of the English National Opera's touring production, which opened to critical acclaim in Brussels's La Monnaie theatre on 26 March and will travel to Rome and Barcelona in the summer on its way home to the London Coliseum on 27 September. This dazzling production has the stage turning into the figure of a slumbering obese lady, and sees characters entering and exiting through her many orifices. Among them is Nektrotzar, a devil who's come to announce the end of the world only to find himself in a surreal place (tellingly named Breughel land) whose inhabitants have long been engaged in a grotesque and paradoxically life-affirming death-dance.

On the London front, do not miss the LPO's celebration of three post-soviet composers little known in Britain, namely Kancheli, Yusupov and Silvestrov (22 April, Southbank Centre). I particularly look forward to Silvestrov's extensive and deeply meditative Fifth Symphony — a work described by conductor Vladimir Jurovsky as the aural equivalent of Andrej Tarkovsky's films.

If you're after a more quixotic flavour you must not miss Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet on 23 April at the Barbican. The programme consists of the haunting album 'The Juliet Letters' (1993). Costello was inspired by the curious event of an Italian Professors attempting to answer some of the thousands of letters that are regularly addressed to Shakespeare's fictional heroine, Juliet, in Verona. Random scraps of fictional diaries and love letters, telling the most disparate tales of human emotions, are set to intensely expressive, magnificently written string quartet music.

Úna-Frances Clarke

The highlight of Dublin's National Concert Hall's schedule in the coming month is a rare visit by the legendary pianist Marta Argerich. On Sunday 26 April, she will bring her remarkable technical and interpretative skills to perform Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3, a piece with which she has delighted audiences the world over. This all-Prokofiev programme is completed by suites from the ever-popular ballets The Love for Three Oranges and Romeo and Juliet. In this highly-anticipated concert, Argerich will be joined by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under their Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Charles Dutoit, a life-long champion of the Russian composer's music and a frequent collaborator with Argerich.

Alexandra Coughlan

As March moves into April the main publicity thrust of the London Handel Festival may be behind us, but the festival itself – which runs from Handel's birthday on 23 February all the way to 14 April, the day of his death – has many of its highlights still to come. On 1 and 2 April Laurence Cummings will be directing the first ever contemporary revival of Handel's Alessandro at the Royal College of Music's Britten Theatre. Written when the composer's opera company included not only star castrato Senesino but also rival soprano divas Cuzzoni and Bordoni, the opera is packed with glittering arias and is long overdue a public airing. The annual Handel Song Competition reaches its final round on 3 April at St George's Hanover Square, and on April 14th the same venue will host one of Handel's most beloved oratorios – Jeptha – conducted by Laurence Cummings with a cast including John Mark Ainsley and Iestyn Davies. And if your appetite for all things Handelian is still not sated then the Trinity College of Music Opera Company and Baroque Orchestra will be presenting the composer's rarely heard opera Giustino in the glorious venue of the Old Royal Navy College Chapel on 30 April.

If you're looking for a musical diversion from the usual Lenten diet of Passions, then look no further than Marc-Antoine Charpentier's elegantly meditative setting of the music for the Easter Vigil. The Lecons de Tenebres will be performed by dynamic baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques at the Wigmore Hall on 11 April. On the same day across town at King's Place Harry Christopher and The Sixteen will be exploring a renaissance approach to meditation in Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories, following on from their program of music of the English renaissance from Robert White and Thomas Tallis on April 9th.

Claudine Nightingale

The anniversary year of some of the greatest Baroque composers continues to provide some great concerts to attend in April. A few to mention would be a collaborative project between The Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera, who are presenting a new interpretation of both Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Handel's Acis and Galatea. IT will be directed and choreographed by Wayne Taylor, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Christopher Hogwood (Royal Opera House, from 31 March).

Obviously, with April comes the Easter weekend, and the usual flurry of Passion performances. There are many exciting performances throughout the country, but those of particular interest might be Bach's St Matthew Passion, featuring Mark Padmore and the OAE (Royal Festival Hall, 9 April) and Bach's St John Passion, conducted by Stephen Layton, with the Academy of Ancient Music (2.30pm, 10 April, St. John's Smith Square).

As for April's CD releases, if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, get hold of a copy of The City Waites and Lucie Skeaping's new CD, The English Stage Jig. Renowned for her research into this largely-untapped area of Early Music, Skeaping and the City Waited offer a rare insight into the musical farces and comedies which regularly featured on the Renaissance stage following more serious theatrical performances. Comically, yet musically performed, this is the first ever recording of these pieces, so they are well worth a listen. As if that's not enough to tempt you, there's even a cameo appearance from Catherine Bott. (The English Stage Jig: Musical Comedies from the 16th and 17th centuries, Hyperion, released 1 April 2009.)


Mike Reynolds

I have two very different operatic evenings planned for April.   The Purcell/Handel double bill at Covent Garden looks irresistible, with Sarah Connolly (Dido) and Lucy Crowe (Belinda) in Dido and Aeneas in a production directed and choreographed by the Royal Opera House's own Wayne McGregor.   Connolly won high praise for her recorded Dido in Radio 3's Saturday CD Review last week, so it will be wonderful to hear her incarnation live.   Then we have the same production team's Acis and Galatea, with Danielle de Niese as Galatea limbering up for her forthcoming Glyndebourne reprise in Giulio Cesare – add the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Christopher Hogwood and we should have an evening of Baroque opera about as good as it gets!

From the world of ground bass and da capo arias it will be a little stretch to Snape Maltings and English Touring Opera, to see a twentieth century masterpiece by Janacek, Katya Kabanova. ETO made a fine job of its recent Jenufa and I cannot wait to see how the same team (James Conway directing and Michael Rosewell conducting) tackle Katya. Linda Richardson sings Katya.

Finally, having just interviewed Mischa Maisky, I have to hear him on 22 April at the Royal Festival Hall playing the UK premiere of Benjamin Yusupov's cello concerto.   With the LPO under Vladimir Jurowski, the programme includes an orchestral soundscape by Giya Kancheli, 'Another Step' and the Fifth Symphony of Valentin Silvestrov.   It should be quite a concert.


John Woods

There are two Wigmore Hall recitals in April which look like they are likely to be the non-operatic vocal highlights of the month.  On 1 April, Dame Felicity Lott returns to the hall with pianist Graham Johnson in a programme which represents the music of no fewer than 24 composers, including Mozart, Wagner, Bernstein and Britten, with plenty in between.  All the settings are either French or English texts.  Dame Felicity appears to be equally at home in both languages, and if she is a little beyond her best years in terms of vocal lustre, she remains an immensely stylish interpreter and an irresistible presence on the stage, if her last Wigmore Hall recital is anything to go by. 

On 29 April, the Argentinian mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink gives a recital with the pianist Gerold Huber.  The programme is more conventional in terms of format at least, comprising an all Schubert first half, and a Dvorak second half, but the Schubert selections mix some well known favourites like An Sylvia and Ganymed with plenty of more rarely heard songs, and it is unusual to get the chance to hear Dvorak's Biblical Songs and 7 Gypsy Songs together.  Fink is a concert artist of great distinction, and her Schubert disc on Harmonia Mundi, also with Huber, reveals her to be a Schubert interpreter of great warmth and insight. 

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